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There's A Growing Divide Between The U.S. And Its European Allies On Iran

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Warsaw now and a meeting that the U.S. and Poland are co-hosting, a meeting that was billed as a big international conference about the Middle East. It has ended up being mostly about one country - Iran. On vivid display - the growing divide between the U.S. and its European allies on Iran. Here's Vice President Mike Pence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join with us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary.

KELLY: The deal limits Iran's nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions. President Trump pulled the U.S. out of it last year. European countries, though, want to stay in the deal and try to keep it alive. NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Warsaw where he has been keeping track of all these meetings. Hey, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hey. So we heard some tough words there from Vice President Pence, tough words directed at Europe. And I'm wondering how that went down considering these meetings have been in Europe.

ESTRIN: Right. Well, he was especially harsh about three of America's closest allies - Germany, France and the U.K. Those countries have tried to set up ways to still do business with Iran. And Pence said that they were coming up with a scheme to break U.S. sanctions against Iran's murderous regime, as he put it. Now, those European countries were already bracing for that kind of talk from Pence. They didn't send their top diplomats to this conference. They sent lower-ranking envoys. Apparently, that was their not-so-subtle protest of the U.S. approach on Iran.

So there are mostly lower-level European representatives at this conference, also several dozen foreign ministers from Gulf Arab countries and other places. They were not the kinds of envoys that were of the same ranking as Secretary of State Pompeo. So I think that really says a lot. And it did expose a rift between the U.S. and its traditional European allies.

KELLY: I should note, we can hear a little bit of traffic and people moving around behind you. I gather the conference is coming to a close and people are making their way onward to their next destination.

ESTRIN: Yes.

KELLY: In terms of the U.S. delegation, this was a very high-level delegation in contrast to some of the others you described. Pence was there, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser; also Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, you mentioned. What has been his message?

ESTRIN: He tried to downplay the lack of top European diplomats at the conference. He also tried to cast this Middle East conference as more than just about Iran. So there were discussions about the war in Yemen, about U.S. policy in Syria. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was there, and he had no qualms about saying what this conference was about. He said this conference is about Iran.

KELLY: And stay with Netanyahu. I mean, what was the role that he was playing at this conference?

ESTRIN: Well, he got a front-row-center spot for that photo that all the participants took. He was given quite a big role at this conference. Pompeo said that it was a historic conference because Netanyahu sat at dinner in the same room with Saudi and other Gulf Arab leaders, countries that don't have open ties with each other. I attended a briefing with Netanyahu after the conference. He said Israel's relations with these countries went up a notch over these last few days because five foreign ministers from Arab countries were willing to sit at the same event with him and talk against Iran. By the way, the Palestinians were not at this conference. They boycotted it, and they think that the U.S. is trying to foster ties between Israel and the Arab world at their expense.

KELLY: And was Iran at this conference, by the way, this conference that ended up being all about Iran?

ESTRIN: I'm glad you asked. They were not invited. And Iran's foreign minister has been tweeting about this conference and calling it hashtag #WarsawCircus.

KELLY: NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting from the streets of Warsaw, Poland. Thanks so much.

ESTRIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF D NUMBERS' "XYLEM UP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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