Mike Pence Image Credit: AFP

Munich - US Vice President Mike Pence doubled down on his criticism of European nations working to preserve a nuclear deal with Iran, saying they should follow Washington’s lead and withdraw from the agreement.

Speaking Saturday right after Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the 2015 Iran deal, Pence said “the time has come for our European partners to stop undermining sanctions” by continuing to offer economic incentives in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear capability.

He said Europe should withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal “and join 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.”

France, Germany and Britain, as well as the European Union, Russia and China, have been struggling to preserve the deal since the US pulled out last year.

Gerrman Chancellor Angela Merkel robustly defended European powers’ decision to stand by the Iran nuclear deal in the face of US criticism as she delivered a spirited backing Saturday of her multilateral approach to global affairs and urged China to join future disarmament efforts.

Merkel’s comments at the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of top global defence and foreign policy officials, followed days of tension between Washington and Europe over Iran.

She said the split over Iran “depresses me very much,” but she downplayed the substance of the differences.

“I see the ballistic missile program, I see Iran in Yemen and above all I see Iran in Syria,” she added.

But “the only question that stands between us on this issue is, do we help our common cause, our common aim of containing the damaging or difficult development of Iran, by withdrawing from the one remaining agreement? Or do we help it more by keeping the small anchor we have in order maybe to exert pressure in other areas?”

Merkel also questioned whether it’s good for the US to withdraw troops quickly from Syria “or is that not also strengthening the possibilities for Iran and Russia to exert influence there?”