EU chief lashes out at Trump amid new push to save Iran deal

European Council President Donald Tusk prepares to address a media conference prior to an EU-Western Balkans summit at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, Bulgaria, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, arrives for a dinner with EU and Western Balkan heads of state at the Sofia Tech Park in Sofia, Bulgaria, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (Stoyan Nenov, Pool Photo via AP)
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, left, speaks with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, center, during a dinner with EU and Western Balkan heads of state at the Sofia Tech Park in Sofia, Bulgaria, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (Stoyan Nenov, Pool Photo via AP)
European Council President Donald Tusk speaks during a media conference prior to an EU-Western Balkans summit at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, Bulgaria, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Heads of State of the EU and Western Balkan countries will attend a dinner on Wednesday and meet for a summit at Sofia's National Palace of Culture on Thursday. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

SOFIA, Bulgaria — A top European Union official branded President Donald Trump selfish and capricious Wednesday as EU leaders met to count the likely economic damage U.S. policies might inflict on the bloc and to try to rescue the Iran nuclear deal.

In a striking rhetorical assault on the leader of Europe's biggest ally, EU Council President Donald Tusk said, given Trump's recent decisions, "someone could even think 'with friends like that, who needs enemies?'"

Trump has bewildered the Europeans by threatening to slap tariffs on EU steel and aluminum exports and reneging on an agreement to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, which the EU believes is vital to world security. Trump has also broken with a key international principle of Middle East peace efforts by moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Tusk's remarks, made before he chaired a meeting in Bulgaria of the 28 leaders whose countries make up the world's biggest trading bloc, underscored the widening gulf in EU-U.S. relations.

Listing Europe's traditional challenges, ranging from the expanding power of China to the belligerence of Russia, Tusk said: "We are witnessing today a new phenomenon, the capricious assertiveness of the American administration."

"Frankly speaking, Europe should be grateful to President Trump because thanks to him we have got rid of all illusions. He has made us realize that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm," Tusk said.

At dinner talks in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, EU leaders were briefed on possible incentives to keep Tehran in the nuclear agreement despite a key player like the U.S. pulling out. Trump's decision means that U.S. sanctions, held in check by a presidential veto until now, could soon hit Iran and European companies doing business there.

The options being considered include new credit lines for Iran, increased energy cooperation and the use of EU laws to block European companies from caving in to U.S. sanctions.

The leaders also planned to discuss Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs, which could be imposed on the EU after June 1. Trump says the tariffs are needed for national security reasons. Europe's leaders, most of whom govern nations that are NATO allies with the U.S., say security concerns simply are an excuse to break with the rules-based order of the World Trade Organization.

"It is absurd to even think that the EU could be a threat to the U.S. We need to bring back reality in this discussion," Tusk said.

Trump's decision to relocate the U.S. embassy to the contested city of Jerusalem will also be raised. Some EU leaders have made a direct link between the move and the killing of almost 60 Palestinians during protests on the Gaza border.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel is calling for an international investigation.

"It's a moment that sends a shiver down your spine. Because there is a striking contrast between, on the one hand, an inauguration in great splendor, with smiles, and on the other hand, the drama, and families today that are in mourning with innocent children who are the victims of this situation," Michel told state broadcaster RTBF.

"We knew that there was a great risk, that this decision to move moving the embassy would bring less security, bring tragedies, and sadly we were right," he said.

But the EU is anything but united and finding consensus will not be easy.

Some countries sent representatives to the U.S. Jerusalem embassy opening on Monday and the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania blocked an EU effort to publish a statement critical of the U.S. move.

The leaders are expected to meet again Friday with the heads of government from six Balkans countries to assess their hopes of eventually joining the EU.

___

Casert reported from Brussels.

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