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Mike Pompeo’s last minute trip to Brussels didn’t go to plan

The secretary of state attempted the same thing in Iraq last week.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo  arrives at the E.U. headquarters in Brussels on May 13, 2019. CREDIT: JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at the E.U. headquarters in Brussels on May 13, 2019. CREDIT: JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images.

The Trump administration’s campaign to isolate Iran has suffered a major setback.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Belgium on Monday hoping to persuade European Union countries to support President Donald Trump’s hardline stance against Iran.

According to several accounts, he failed — badly.

One senior European diplomat told a Wall Street Journal reporter that Pompeo essentially went to Brussels to give the optics that the EU was in support of U.S. actions against Iran. “He wanted a photo op. We declined and stuck with the plan,” they said.

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Pompeo, who was supposed to be in Moscow over the weekend, opted to change his plans at the last minute, essentially hoped to crash a group meeting, but, according to The Washington Post, “was rebuffed on even some basic requests in Brussels.”

He ultimately did not meet with the whole group, but managed to get a few one-on-one meetings with European diplomats, including Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who at first told him that she might be too busy to meet.

According to Bloomberg News, Pompeo went to Brussels with “fresh intelligence on the threat posed by Iran” in meetings with the three EU countries who signed on to the 2015 nuclear deal (France, the U.K., and Germany).

After the meeting with Pompeo, Mogherini stressed the importance of all parties complying with the nuclear agreement, which offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for it limiting its nuclear activities associated with its energy program.

“We are living in a crucial delicate moment where the most relevant attitude to take, the most responsible attitude to take is, and we believe should be, that of maximum restraint and avoiding any escalation on a military side,” she added.

The development comes as the Trump administration has significantly increased its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran. Earlier this month, national security adviser John Bolton framed the routine presence of a U.S. carrier in the Persian Gulf as an escalation — a readiness for war with Iran. And on Monday, the United States accused Iran, or its proxies, of attacking four oil tankers — two of them Saudi — in waters off the United Arab Emirates.

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The United States has also reimposed a number of sanctions on Iran after Trump violated the terms of the nuclear agreement in May 2018. The agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (or JCPOA), remains in place in spirit, though Trump’s threat of secondary sanctions on countries that continue to trade with or invest in Iran has essentially rendered it worthless.

Iran, meanwhile, continues to comply with the terms of the agreement — as confirmed by repeated inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said last week that Iran will stop complying with some of the terms of the JCPOA in 60 days, unless it is offered some of the sanctions relief it was promised as part of the deal.

It’s important to note that the terms Iran said it will no longer comply with are subject to interpretation and neither violate the agreement nor signal an attempt to build nuclear weapons (Iran only has a nuclear energy program).

Pompeo’s trip to Brussels represents his second attempt to find allies for the Trump administration’s campaign against Iran.

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The secretary of state visited Baghdad last week in an attempt to persuade the Iraqi prime minister and president to stand strong against Iran. After Pompeo’s departure, both leaders issued statements saying that they had no intention of allowing Iraq to become a conflict zone for tensions between Iran and the United States, and that they sought to have good relationships with all of their neighbors in the region, including Iran.

Pompeo’s Baghdad visit, it should be noted, was also so last minute that, for a moment, it was unclear to the media traveling with him where they were going. Members of the press knew only that they would not be going to Germany as planned and that they won’t be able to report from the location they were headed to (standard protocol for conflict zones).

Pompeo is meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday, where he is expected to discuss nuclear non-proliferation and, of course, Iran.

On Monday, Trump was asked about the attack on the tankers in the Gulf of Oman. He replied that it would “be a bad problem for Iran if something happens.”