By Lesley Wroughton
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the EU’s top diplomat in Brussels on Friday, a day after Vice President Mike Pence accused America’s traditional European allies of trying to undermine U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Pompeo’s meeting with Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, was scheduled before Pence’s rebuke of European powers, during a Middle East peace conference in Warsaw on Thursday. Mogherini missed the conference, citing a scheduling conflict at NATO.
Mogherini, who helped seal the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, greeted Pompeo at EU headquarters in Brussels. She shook off a question seeking her reaction to Pence’s speech.
State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said Pence’s speech was not raised during the hour-long meeting, which he said was friendly and constructive.
“Absolutely not. It was not discussed at all,” Palladino told reporters traveling with Pompeo, when asked whether Pence’s speech and the Iran nuclear deal were mentioned.
They also did not talk about the Iran nuclear deal, although they did discuss Iran’s “destabilizing activities and the need to counter them,” he said.
In a separate statement, Palladino said the sides agreed to work closely on efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela. They also discussed ending the conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine and the upcoming leaders’ summit on North Korea, he said.
Representatives for Mogherini did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Palladino’s comments.
Pence’s unusually tough words for allies Germany, France and Britain, in Warsaw on Thursday, reflect Washington’s strategy of isolating Iran, in remarks that were likely to further strain transatlantic relations.
Trump last year pulled the United States out of the 2015 Iran deal, under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
On Thursday, speaking at NATO before Pence’s comments, Mogherini said the United States and the European Union had “different views” on the Iran nuclear deal and said upholding it was critical to European security because it prevented Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.
European countries say they share Washington’s concerns about Iran’s involvement in wars in Yemen and Syria but add that withdrawing from the nuclear deal was a mistake, and have promised to try to salvage the deal as long as Iran continues to abide by it. In practice, European companies have accepted new U.S. sanctions on Iran and abandoned plans to invest there.
France, Germany and Britain have agreed on a new channel for non-dollar trade with Iran to avert U.S. sanctions. That will likely take months to open, however, and is expected to be used only for smaller trade such as humanitarian products or food.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio; editing by Robin Emmott, Susan Heavey and Steve Orlofsky)