US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that
Washington will not stand in the way of a system that Europeans are developing
to shield companies dealing with Iran from American sanctions, so long as the
focus is on providing humanitarian and other permitted goods.
Pompeo, making his first visit to Germany as secretary of state, said the US does not take issue with the development of the system known as INSTEX, so long as it deals with the trade of goods not subject to sanctions, as the Europeans contend it will.
“We’ve been pretty clear about trade with Iran — there are items that are sanctioned and there are items that are not,” Pompeo told reporters after meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at a government villa in suburban Berlin.
“When we think about INSTEX, if it’s aimed at facilitating the movement of goods that are authorized to move, it’s unproblematic,” he said.
Since withdrawing unilaterally from the landmark 2015 deal with Iran that offered economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, the US has been at odds with the other nations involved that have been trying to keep the deal alive — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China.
As the US has increased sanctions and companies have been pulling business out of Iran, the Europeans have been developing INSTEX, a complicated barter-type system to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran and so evade possible US sanctions.
The system is not yet up and running, but they hope to have it functioning by this summer.
Maas emphasized that even though the US is no longer party to the Iran agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, its goal is the same.
“We both agree that Iran must be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons,” Maas said. “It’s no secret that we differ on how to achieve that.”
In other comments, Pompeo praised Germany for granting asylum to Chinese dissidents and reiterated Washington’s position that China’s telecommunications giant Huawei should be excluded from helping develop 5G networks in Germany and elsewhere due to security risks.
He said the US worries that sensitive data could “end up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party” and that in the case of Huawei, “it is not possible to mitigate” the risks.
He suggested that if countries do use Huawei in their 5G systems, they could find themselves shut off from American information.
There is a “risk that we will have to change our behavior in light of the fact that we can’t permit private citizen data from the United States or national security data from the United States to go across networks that we don’t... view as trusted,” Pompeo said.
Maas reiterated that Germany was not prepared to exclude any company from bidding but said any firm that could not meet security standards would be rejected.
The US has also been critical of Germany for going ahead with a joint project with Russia to build the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would take Russian natural gas directly to Germany under the Baltic, arguing it is a security issue because it would increase Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.
Pompeo refused to comment, however, on whether the US was prepared to sanction German companies involved in the project.
“We never discuss sanctions before we roll them out,” he said.
Following the meeting with Maas, Pompeo held brief talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had just returned from a trip to the US to give a commencement speech at Harvard.
In a speech that echoed her past criticisms of President Donald Trump without directly naming him, Merkel told Harvard graduates Thursday that they should “tear down walls of ignorance” and reject isolationism as they tackle global problems. Merkel also said leaders should not “describe lies as truth and truth as lies.”
Before Friday’s meeting, Merkel said she and Pompeo would discuss how to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and “how we prevent other aggressive actions by Iran.” She stressed the importance of decades of German-US friendship — a theme echoed by Pompeo, who said “Germany is a great, important partner and ally of the United States.” They took no questions.
Pompeo was traveling from Berlin to Switzerland, which has long represented Washington’s interests in Tehran.