Europe moves to safeguard Iran interests

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she is eager to keep Iran nuclear deal alive.Europe’s largest economies have lobbied to protect their companies’ investments in Iran, seeking to keep the nuclear deal with Tehran alive after Washington pulled out and threatened to impose sanctions on European companies.

Germany and France have significant trade links with Iran and remain committed to the nuclear agreement, as does Britain, and the three countries’ foreign ministers plan to meet on Tuesday to discuss it.

That is part of a flurry of diplomatic activity following Tuesday’s unilateral withdrawal which was accompanied by the threat of US penalties against any foreign firms doing business in Iran.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said ways to save the deal without Washington needed to be discussed with Tehran, while France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said EU states would propose sanctions-blocking measures to the European Commission.

“Do we accept extraterritorial sanctions? The answer is no,” Le Maire said. “Do we accept that the United States is the economic gendarme of the planet? The answer is no.

“Do we accept the vassalisation of Europe in commercial matters? The answer is no.”

Both he and Germany’s finance minister Olaf Scholz had spoken to their US counterpart Steven Mnuchin, urging him to consider exemptions or delays for companies already present in the country.

Le Maire said he was seeking concrete exemptions for countries already present in Iran, including Renault, Total, Sanofi, Danone and Peugeot.

Scholz had also asked for concrete measures to help German companies, Handelsblatt newspaper reported.

“The extent to which we can keep this deal alive … is something we need to discuss with Iran,” said Mrs Merkel, who earlier spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue.

Le Maire said Paris would seek to strengthen Europe’s ability to block sanctions and provide investment finance to companies. He called for the creation of a body to monitor the implementation of EU sanctions rules.

French exports to Iran doubled to $US1.79 billion ($A2.37 billion) last year, driven by sales of aircraft and automobile parts, according to customs data.

Around 120 German firms have operations with their own staff in Iran, including Siemens , and some 10,000 German companies trade with Iran.

But the US ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, said firms should question the morality of doing business with Iran.

“Germany, France and Britain, the ‘EU3’, say themselves that Iran poses a threat. Do they want to do business with a threat?” Bild newspaper quoted him as saying.

Merkel later added at a church event in the German city of Muenster: “It is in our interest to have a strong transatlantic relationship.” But she added: “If everybody does what they like, then this is bad news for the world.”

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