Europe to seek exemptions from new US sanctions on Iran

EU leaders said they would press Washington to exempt European companies from fresh US sanctions as transatlantic tensions spiked over President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

French officials said on Wednesday they would use the next three to six months before US penalties are fully reinstated to seek carve-outs for EU companies.

The EU is committed to salvaging the 2015 deal intended to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Tehran has said it will stick to the agreement. But to save the deal EU capitals have to convince European companies including Total, Airbus and Sanofi to keep investing and signing deals with Tehran despite the threat of extraterritorial US fines.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the Islamic republic’s commitment to the deal would depend on “sufficient guarantees” from France, Germany and the UK. Otherwise, continuation of the nuclear agreement “is not logical”.

A French senior diplomat said: “The US administration announced a gradual reinstatement of the sanctions. We’re going to do everything, in connection to our companies, to defend their interests.” He added: “We’re going to need time.”

Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, on Wednesday said he would suggest “exemptions” and “grand-fathering measures” for existing contracts and investments when he talks with US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin this week.

The US withdrawal “is going to cause considerable economic difficulties, but beyond those economic problems, it’s a matter of principle, to have extraterritorial sanctions,” Mr Le Maire told radio France Culture.

After Mr Trump’s announcement, the US Treasury said it would reimpose all sanctions on Iran after a transition period of three to six months. The sanctions include prohibitions on Iranians accessing US dollars and efforts to prevent Iranian oil from flowing into global markets.

The US also cancelled export licences for Boeing and Airbus passenger jets.

In a sign of the gulf between Washington and its European allies opened up by Mr Trump’s repudiation of the accord, Mr Le Maire said: “The international reach of US sanctions makes the US the economic policeman of the planet, and that is not acceptable.”

German foreign minister Heiko Maas warned that the US exit from the Iran agreement would undermine trust in international agreements.

“The nuclear agreement increased security, and the US exit now threatens to decrease security. It also threatens to undermine trust in international treaties,” he said.

Germany’s chief diplomat added: “We will work towards securing a future for this agreement, which is the successful product of long and difficult diplomatic negotiations over many years. Most importantly, the agreement works.”

In a statement the EU said: “The lifting of nuclear-related sanctions is an essential part of the agreement. The EU has repeatedly stressed that the sanctions lifting has a positive impact on trade and economic relations with Iran. The EU stresses its commitment to ensuring that this can continue to be delivered.”

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