US-Europe divisions over Iran deal mark this year’s Munich security conference

Divisions between the United States and Europe over the Iran nuclear deal marked this year’s Munich Security Conference as US Vice President Mike Pence and German Chancellor Angela Merkel took each other to task.

Representing the Trump administration, Pence rebuked European powers over Iran and Venezuela in a renewed attack on Washington’s traditional allies, rejecting a call by Germany’s chancellor to include Russia in global cooperation efforts.

“America First does not mean America alone,” he said, hailing the results of Donald Trump’s presidency as “remarkable” and “extraordinary,” and calling on the EU to follow Washington in quitting the Iran nuclear deal and recognizing the head of Venezuela’s congress, Juan Guaido, as the country’s president.

Pence – who last week accused Britain, Germany and France of undermining US sanctions on Iran – repeated his demand for European powers to withdraw from the deal.

“The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal,” he said, and later pressed Merkel over the issue in bilateral talks.

For her part, Merkel questioned whether the US decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal and withdrawal from Syria was the best way to tackle Tehran in the region.

During a question-and-answer session, she added that it would be wrong to exclude Russia politically, but Pence said Washington was “holding Russia accountable” for its 2014 seizure of Ukraine and what the West says are efforts to destabilize it through cyber-attacks, disinformation and covert operations.

“Geo-strategically, Europe can’t have an interest in cutting off all relations with Russia,” Merkel said.

The annual Munich Security Conference, first held in 1963, brings together world leaders to address military challenges. For years, discussions have largely centered on Western countries backing a strong security institutions like NATO and fostering stability through open markets.

But in an introductory note on Friday, Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference warned that the world was facing “an epochal shift.”

“An era is ending, and the rough outlines of a new political age are only beginning to emerge. No matter where you look, there are countless conflicts and crises – crises that greatly affect us Europeans,” Ischinger wrote.

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