LONDON - As tensions escalate between the United States and Iran, Europe has urged all sides to avoid further escalation.
The United States has deployed a naval strike group to the Middle East region, led by the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier. B-52 bombers have also arrived at the U.S. air base in Qatar, designed to counter what the Trump administration says are "clear indications" of threats from Iran to U.S. forces.
Military analyst Jack Watling of the London-based Royal United Services Institute says the deployments are not unusual.
“There hasn’t been a massive change in U.S. force posture in the region. What there has been is a very significant change in messaging. And combined with that the U.S. is putting more and more pressure on Iran economically. So the question comes, how is Iran going to push back? How are they going to show the United States that if you keep pressing us, we can respond? And at that point, if they get that wrong, there is a risk of runaway escalation,” Watling told VOA.
Europe believes that risk is dangerously high, a point made clear to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he arrived in Brussels for talks Monday with European Union Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini.
“We are living in a crucial, delicate moment where the most relevant attitude to take - the most responsible attitude to take - is we believe should be that of maximum restraint and avoiding any escalation of the military side,” Mogherini told reporters after the meeting.
Washington pulled out of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran a year ago. Up to now, Europe has urged Tehran to stick with the deal and effectively wait out the Trump administration, says analyst Jack Watling.
“What we’ve seen over the last week is the U.S. administration putting an awful lot of pressure on the viability of that policy. And in pushing the Iranians to the point where they have walked away from a key component of the deal, it essentially underscores the fact it might not be possible to continue in that direction. So, Europe will have to decide.”
Much depends on whether Tehran decides to block nuclear inspectors from entering the country to verify the enrichment freeze.
“That would be very escalatory because Israel would suddenly feel quite threatened, and at that point the deal would be completely dead,” adds Watling.
Meanwhile, the United States continues to tighten the economic noose. India was a major importer of Iranian oil, but stopped purchases this month in the wake of renewed U.S. sanctions. Visiting Delhi Tuesday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was questioned on the U.S. military deployments in the Gulf region.
“Unfortunately [the] United States has been escalating the situation unnecessarily. We do not seek escalation, but we have always defended ourselves,” Zarif said.
Analyst Watling says any conflict with Iran would quickly engulf the region.
“It has to fight essentially a regional deep battle. Which means activating a lot of the assets they’ve developed potentially in Lebanon, in Iraq, and conducting ballistic missile strikes.”
Fear of such a conflict has rattled Europe, caught between the demands of its U.S. ally to abandon the nuclear deal and warnings from Tehran that such a move would lead to a resumption of its nuclear program.