Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

European Leaders Scramble To Reduce Tensions Between U.S.-Iran


European leaders are scrambling. They want to prevent any violent conflict between the U.S. and Iran, and they want to salvage any bit of the nuclear deal they can. At an emergency meeting in Brussels Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called for restraint from the U.S. and Iran.


JENS STOLTENBERG: A new conflict would be in no one's interests.

MARTIN: So what can Europe do about it? We are joined now by Norbert Rottgen. He is the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German Parliament.

Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

NORBERT ROTTGEN: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: I want to begin with something that the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Fox News on the day that the U.S. conducted this assassination - this deadly strike against Iran's Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport. Let's listen.


MIKE POMPEO: Frankly, the Europeans haven't been as helpful as I wish that they could be. The Brits, the French, the Germans all need to understand that what we did - what the Americans did saved lives in Europe, as well.

MARTIN: Is that the view in Europe?

ROTTGEN: No, definitely not. And I'm sorry to say that I think that this assessment of the secretary of state is not justified because the German government and all the other European governments have voiced that they can't understand the security interests of the United States. So there were - we have been very clear - very close to the American position. However, this has caused, I would say, the gravest Middle East crisis for decades now. And there is now especially European potential to engage in the region in order to avoid a new spiral of violence. So there is also kind of distribution of labor, and this should also be appreciated in the United States and Washington and by the administration.

MARTIN: I want to get to that. But just to confirm, does this mean that European intelligence agencies have not been privy to the intelligence that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Trump administration are basing the killing on?

ROTTGEN: I think this has remained in the dark, to be honest. First, we heard that it was kind of a reaction to the aggression we have seen perpetrated by Iran - the attack on the Saudi oil industry and others. And then the argument was that it was to prevent imminent attacks. And we do not have knowledge about this imminent attacks. We certainly believe what the administration says, but there is no facts that we can share with them.

MARTIN: So what leverage, if any, does Europe have to step in and try to dissipate the tensions between the U.S. and Iran right now?

ROTTGEN: I think this is what is now both in the interest of Washington and Tehran and of the Europeans - that we calm down the tensions. We clearly see now a war of words. And I think we have to do everything to prevent a real and outright war. I think this is in the interest both of Iran and the United States and, of course, of the Europeans. And I think there is a potential because Europeans - the German government - Germany, France - we have a credibility. And I think we will invest this credibility, for example, to try to engage the Russian president, also, to exert his influence on the Iranian leadership.

MARTIN: In what way? What would you like Vladimir Putin to do?

ROTTGEN: I think what we have to do now is to engage the international community to forge a position of the international community to influence the Iranian leadership not to overreact and not to take decisions which would inevitably then cause new harsh American retaliation. I think we have to do everything and to engage and forge an international position to press Iran - to convince Iran to avoid exactly that.

MARTIN: Two other questions for you. Germany has had a small troop presence in Iraq. Now your government is announcing that a couple dozen of those troops are going to redeploy to neighboring countries. Is that a result of the Iraqi Parliament's vote to push out foreign troops?

ROTTGEN: This is a result of a command of the American leadership of the anti-IS coalition. And the decision there was temporarily to redeploy those troops which are deployed either in Iraq or quite close to Iraq - to Baghdad. Sorry.

MARTIN: And briefly, is the Iran nuclear deal dead?

ROTTGEN: It's not dead already. It's really damaged. And it is suspended - strikingly only suspended by the Iranians and not canceled. This is remarkable.

MARTIN: You think there's hope to salvage some parts of it still.

ROTTGEN: Some hope is left, and the Iranians did not take the opportunity to withdraw entirely. But they only have said, we do not abide any longer. So there is a chance - an opportunity to revive it.

MARTIN: Norbert Rottgen, chair of the German Parliament's foreign affairs committee, we appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

ROTTGEN: Thank you so much. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.