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US officials seek European support amid escalating confrontation with Iran

U.S. Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Brian Hook speaks at the announcement of the creation of the Iran Action Group in the Press Briefing Room, at the Department of State, August 16, 2018. (U.S. State Department/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A top U. S. official said that even though “maximum economic pressure” on Iran through sanctions is working, Tehran does not have the right to violate its nuclear commitments.

The comments on June 27 by Special Representative on Iran Brian Hook came as the acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was in Brussels meeting with NATO defense ministers to build support among European allies for U.S. actions against Iran.

June 27 was the deadline when Tehran said it expected to exceed the threshold for stockpiles of enriched uranium allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which curtailed Tehran’s nuclear programs.

Hook traveled to Paris for meetings with senior French, British and German diplomats in Paris amid efforts by European countries to save the deal, which U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of last year.

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European signatories of the accord want to avoid a further escalation in tensions between the United States and Iran and are trying to convince Tehran not to leave the deal.

Hook traveled to Paris for meetings with senior French, British, and German diplomats in Paris amid efforts by European countries to save the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that curtailed Tehran’s nuclear programs.

European signatories to the accord want to avoid a further escalation in tensions between the United States and Iran and are trying to convince Tehran not to leave the deal, which U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of last year.

Hook and other U.S. officials have sought to convince allies that the U.S. policy of crippling sanctions was the best way to get Iran back to the negotiating table.

Iran has said it planned to go ahead and increase enrichment of uranium, a move that would potentially put it in violation of the nuclear deal.

In an interview with Reuters, Hook said there would be consequences if Iran did that.

He said that, despite the U.S. pullout from the accord and subsequent sanctions, it was not an excuse to violate the accord.

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“We are dedicated to this policy of maximum economic pressure because it is working, it is denying the regime historic levels of revenue,” Hook was quoted by Reuters as saying.

“Our sanctions do not give Iran the right to accelerate its nuclear program. It can never get near a nuclear bomb. We are looking very closely at that so it doesn’t get below the one year nuclear break-out time,” he told Reuters.

Last year, Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 pact, under which Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear ambitions in return for the removal of crippling sanctions. Trump later reimposed a number of sanctions.

Iran has said it wants to abide by the deal but cannot do so indefinitely as new U.S. sanctions mean it is receiving none of the benefits.

France has said it would ask Trump to suspend some sanctions on Iran to make room for negotiations to defuse the escalating confrontation.

Hook also told Reuters that Tehran had spurned U.S. advances about talks.

“We’ve offered many carrots and a year ago we made clear that if Iran behaves like a normal nation and not a revolutionary cause then we will lift all our sanctions.”

In Brussels, meanwhile, Esper said that Washington was not seeking war with Iran, but was ready to defend U.S. interests against any attacks.

“The Iranian regime has been sowing chaos and conflict in the Middle East for 40 years. The United States is by no means the instigator of recent tensions in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran’s hostile actions are an international problem that affect many nations,” he told a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.

He also cited Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, a growing ballistic-missile program, support for international terrorism, and assaults on freedom of navigation in regional waterways.

“Let me be clear: The United States does not seek war with Iran,” he said.

“Our strategy is at its core an economic and diplomatic one. Again, we do not seek armed conflict with Iran, but we are ready to defend U.S. forces and interests in the region. No one should mistake restraint for weakness,” he said.

The meetings in Brussels and Paris came one week after Trump called off air strikes on Iran minutes before implementation.

Iran’s downing of a U.S. military drone days earlier had sparked worry that it would prompt Trump to order military action against Iranian targets.

As of late June 27, it wasn’t immediately clear if Tehran had exceeded the nuclear deal’s limitations, thought diplomats were quoted as saying that it did not appear it had done so.

Iran’s foreign minister, meanwhile, warned Trump that he was mistaken if he thought a war with Tehran would be short.

In a post to Twitter, Mohammad Zarif suggested that any conflict between the United States and Iran would be prolonged.

“‘Short war’ with Iran is an illusion,” Zarif wrote. “Whoever begins war will not be the one ending it.”