MUNICH — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday called on European Union nations to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and accused them of undertaking efforts to “break up” U.S. sanctions on Tehran.

The rebuke is just the latest episode in a running drama over relations between the Trump administration and America’s closest allies, and it comes ahead of the 2019 Munich Security Conference in the Bavarian capital, Feb 15-17, where Pence is expected to deliver remarks and hold bilateral meetings.

Speaking at a Middle East conference in Warsaw, Poland, Pence ripped allies for staying in the 2015 landmark multinational nuclear accord after President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision last May to withdraw.

“The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join with us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region and the world the peace, security and freedom they deserve,” he said.

Pence was critical of Britain, France and Germany for unveiling a new financial mechanism last month that U.S. officials believe is intended to keep the nuclear deal alive by evading American sanctions. Pence praised other nations for complying with U.S. sanctions by reducing Iranian oil imports, but said the Europeans fell short.

“They call it a ‘special purpose vehicle.’ We call it an effort to break sanctions against Iran’s murderous regime,” Pence said. “It’s an ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken EU, and create still more distance between Europe and the United States.”

The mechanism is a barter-type payment system designed to allow businesses to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran.

While there was no immediate reaction from the allies Pence criticized, they have defended their moves to skirt sanctions. Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said last month the countries are “moving in the same direction on a whole series of issues such as ballistic missiles or Iran’s regional influence, but that we do have a difference of opinion on the nuclear agreement.”

Calling the original Obama-era deal a “devil’s bargain,” Pence argued Thursday it was flawed because it fails to prevent Iran from evenutally developing a nuclear weapon. He said that Iran, since the deal was brokered, has become more aggressive in the region, not less.

Last month, Trump lashed out at his own intelligence chiefs after they concluded that Tehran’s work to stay in compliance with the deal has made it less of a nuclear threat. At the same time, the U.S. military assessed America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has not slowed down Iran’s other malign behavior.

The Trump administration announced in August it would reactivate economic sanctions on Iran that were paused under the nuclear deal. On Thursday, Pence promised still tougher sanctions to dissuade Iran’s “dangerous and destabilizing behavior.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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