MUNICH (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel drew lengthy applause Saturday for her spirited defense of a multilateral approach to global affairs and support for Europe’s decision to stand by a nuclear deal with Iran.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was not among the impressed, however, and he doubled down on American criticism of Europe.
Merkel’s comments at the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of world leaders and top global defense and foreign policy officials, followed days of acrimony between the U.S. and Europe over Iran.
Merkel told the group — which included the largest U.S. delegation ever with dozens of members of Congress, Ivanka Trump, Pence and others — she shared American concerns about many Iranian efforts to increase its power in the region.
But while she said the split with the U.S. over Iran’s nuclear agreement “depresses me very much,” she defended it as an important channel to Tehran, stressing the need for international diplomacy.
“I see the ballistic missile program, I see Iran in Yemen and above all I see Iran in Syria,” she said. “The only question that stands between us on this issue is, do we help our common cause, our common aim of containing the damaging or difficult development of Iran, by withdrawing from the one remaining agreement? Or do we help it more by keeping the small anchor we have in order maybe to exert pressure in other areas?”
Germany, Britain, France, China, Russia and the European Union have been trying to keep the 2015 deal with Iran alive since U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of it last year.
The deal offers Iran sanctions relief for limiting its nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said, so far, Tehran is sticking to the agreement.
But the U.S. argues the deal just puts off when Iran might be able to build a nuclear bomb. Speaking after Merkel, Pence pushed for Europeans to end their involvement in the nuclear deal, calling Iran “the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world.”
“The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining U.S. sanctions against this murderous revolutionary regime,” Pence said. “The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and with the Iranian people, our allies and friends in the region. The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.”
Merkel’s speech was warmly received, while Pence’s was met with polite applause.
“This was a big and say-it-as-it-is Merkel speech,” Daniela Schwarzer, the director of the German Council on Foreign relations think tank, wrote on Twitter. “Minutes of applause and standing ovations for a powerful commitment to picking up the pieces of a shattered (world) order and working on a European and (international) order that creates win-win situations.”
Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who was in office when the Iran nuclear deal was negotiated, went out of his way to thank Merkel and defended the Iran deal as a “significant agreement.”
Biden told the group that many Americans did not agree with the Trump administration’s “America first” approach.
“You heard a lot today about leadership but in my experience, leadership only exists if somebody and others are with you,” he said after Pence’s address. “Leadership in the absence of people who are with you is not leadership.”