LUXEMBOURG - The EU is to dispatch its chief diplomat Federica Mogherini to Washington next month to fight for the Iran nuclear deal after US President Donald Trump threatened to tear it up.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday joined a chorus of international support for the landmark 2015 accord, warning that Trump's hardline stance jeopardised efforts to find a peaceful solution to the nuclear crisis with North Korea.
Trump caused alarm across the Atlantic with a belligerent speech on Friday in which he stopped short of pulling out of the agreement but warned he could do so at any time, restating his belief that the deal was letting Iran off the hook.
He left it to the US Congress to decide whether to reimpose sanctions that were lifted in return for Tehran abandoning its nuclear ambitions.
Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy head, said she would "be in Washington in early November" to urge US lawmakers not to pull out of the deal, known officially as the JCPOA, which was negotiated with Iran over 12 painstaking years by the US, Britain, France, China, Germany and Russia.
Ditching the deal when Tehran has repeatedly been certified as keeping up its end of the bargain by UN inspectors would send a signal to North Korea that negotiating with the international community is a waste of time, EU ministers fear.
"Clearly the ministers are concerned about the fact that messages on the JCPOA might affect negatively the possibility of opening negotiations or opening even the space for negotiations with the DPRK," Mogherini told reporters after the bloc's 28 foreign ministers held talks in Luxembourg.
- 'Military confrontation' -
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Trump's hardline stance risked dragging the world back to a "military confrontation" with Iran.
"The threatened termination of the deal with Iran of course undermines the credibility of such international treaties," he said.
The Luxembourg meeting will sign off on a new package of EU sanctions aimed at punishing Pyongyang for its recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests and drying up revenue streams it needs for its weapons programmes.
The EU hopes economic pressure will help bring the North to the bargaining table, but Mogherini said that weakening the Iran deal would make it harder to persuade the North to talk.
"Obviously any step that fragilises the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture elsewhere makes our work more difficult on DPRK," she said, referring to the North's official name of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The warnings from Europe come after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson argued that Trump's stance sent a message to North Korea that Washington would insist on a "very demanding agreement" with Pyongyang.
The leaders of France, Britain and Germany gave a rebuke to Trump in a joint statement on Friday which said the deal remained "in our shared national security interest".
Russia and China also voiced their support for the agreement.
The UN's atomic agency has repeatedly certified that Iran is sticking to its technical requirements under the accord, but Trump has insisted that the "fanatical regime" in Tehran is not living up to the "spirit" of the deal.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that any rupture would be "extremely damaging".
- Intense lobbying -
EU officials have already been lobbying members of Congress not to turn their backs on the accord, which was endorsed unanimously by the UN Security Council, and Mogherini, touted as a Nobel Peace Prize candidate for her work on the deal, had already delivered an angry retort to Trump on Friday.
"It is clearly not in the hands of any president of any country in the world to terminate an agreement of this sort. The president of the United States has many powers (but) not this one," she said.
Diplomats say that European powers share some of Trump's concerns about Iran's activities not covered by the nuclear deal -- notably its ballistic missile programme and involvement in numerous Middle East conflicts, including the war in Syria.
But they say these should be dealt with in other forums and warn it would be a calamitous mistake to sacrifice the achievement of the nuclear deal.