U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled his planned meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Monday and instead headed straight to Brussels to meet with leaders of the European Union over Iran.
The announcement by the State Department of Pompeo’s presence in Brussels came as a surprise on Sunday evening, but the Secretary said he felt it necessary to share “information and intelligence” on the situation in Iran with America’s allies amid the “escalating” threats.
The visit came right after four oil tankers – two owned by Saudi Arabia, one belonging to the UAE and one Norwegian – were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Although authorities were silent about the details of the attack, several news agencies managed to capture images of hull damage that showed explosives were used.
The U.S. has warned that “Iran or its proxies” may be targeting maritime traffic in the region, although Iran has denied involvement in the incident, calling the sabotage “worrisome and dreadful.”
The Secretary did not participate in the scheduled EU meeting, but instead held bilateral meetings with EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
The EU officials reportedly told Pompeo to exercise “maximum restraint” in the U.S. standoff with Tehran, expressing concerns the tensions between the two nations could flare into a military confrontation.
The Secretary “heard very clearly today from us, not only from myself but also from the other ministers of EU member states, that we are living in a crucial, delicate moment where . . . the most responsible attitude to take . . . should be that of maximum restraint, avoiding escalation on the military side,” Mogherini told reporters.
“We are very worried that a confrontation could escalate by accident,” the British Foreign Secretary added, speaking to reporters.
However, Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told reporters the president’s approach is the most effective way to convince Tehran to change its behavior. “If talking nicely worked, we would have settled this decades ago,” Hook said.
“This is a regime that only understands economic pressure and diplomatic isolation. We are committed to this strategy because it has the best chances of de-escalating the threats. Economic pressure, diplomatic isolation and the threat of military force. It’s always one or more of those elements that have to be present.”
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters shortly after Pompeo met with EU leaders that it would be “a very bad mistake” if Iran acted against American allies or interests.
“If they do anything . . . I’m hearing little stories about Iran,” the president said while speaking Monday to reporters in the Oval Office. “If they do anything they will suffer greatly. We’ll see what happens with Iran.”