The three powers want to agree on a common EU position ahead of a February 13-14 meeting against Iran that has been jointly convened by the US and Poland. Some European ministers see the Warsaw gathering as an attempt by Washington to push the bloc towards a more hawkish line on Iran, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.
But the EU is also seeking to reconcile its efforts to preserve the nuclear pact with anger among member states over alleged Iranian “assassination plots on European soil”.
While Iran has strongly denied all involvement, the EU imposed sanctions this month over what the bloc calls conspiracies to murder opposition figures in France and Denmark.
“We need to accept that the (nuclear deal) is important and it has been a signal achievement,” said one EU diplomat supportive of the moves to hammer out a new consensus in the 28-member bloc.
“Equally, we need to stress that there are real reasons to be concerned about what Iran has been doing — and we need to apply pressure.”
But technical problems and continuing differences over the new policy’s mix of carrots and sticks mean that ministers are unlikely to agree on a joint statement on Monday.
One obstacle is the long-delayed launch of a planned special European non-dollar financial channel to shield trade with Iran from US sanctions.
Diplomats see this as crucial to persuading Tehran to stay in the nuclear deal after Washington pulled out last year. But many EU countries were nervous that any involvement would provoke retribution from the US.
The trade channel is now envisaged to be set up within weeks. It would be based in France, headed by a German and have UK, French and German shareholdings, diplomats said.
European diplomats maintain it is essential for the bloc to have a clear common direction on Iran ahead of a historic first meeting on February 24 and 25 between EU and Arab League foreign ministers. The League’s 22 members include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — both noted Iran hawks.
The Warsaw meeting organized by the US and Poland is still more pressing. Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, said this month that an “important element” of the gathering would be “making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence” in the Middle East.
Tehran has formally protested to the Polish government over a gathering. Some other EU countries are also deeply uncomfortable with the meeting, diplomats said.
France is unlikely to send Jean-Yves Le Drian, its foreign minister, while Germany and UK have not yet decided at what level they will be represented, diplomats said. Federica Mogherini, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, will not attend, citing a previous travel commitment, a senior EU official said.
“The US move to hold the meeting in Poland intends to strike at the heart of EU unity on Iran policy,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, a Middle East specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank. “European member states, particularly stakeholders to the nuclear deal, intend to preserve this unity — and read from the same song sheet at Warsaw.”