Europe’s largest economies lobbied to protect their companies’ investments in Iran on Friday, 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 from what U.S. President Donald Trump called “a horrible, one-sided deal”, a move accompanied by the threat of 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.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and Trump agreed in a phone call that talks were needed to discuss how U.S sanctions on Iran would affect foreign companies operating in the country.
May’s spokeswoman said May had told Trump that Britain and its European partners remained “firmly committed” to ensuring the deal was upheld as the best way to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Both Le Maire and Germany’s finance minister Olaf Scholz had spoken to their U.S. 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 2015 agreement between major powers and Iran set limits on its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Europeans fear a collapse of the deal could intensify conflicts in the Middle East.
Germany, France and Britain want talks to be held in a broader format to include Iran’s ballistic missile program and its regional military activities, including in Syria and Yemen.
“The extent to which we can keep this deal alive ... is something we need to discuss with Iran,” said Merkel, who earlier spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue.
Divisions in Iran over how it should respond to the U.S. pullout were illustrated as senior cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Tehran University on Friday that European nations could not be trusted.
President Hassan Rouhani had said on Tuesday that Tehran would remain in the deal, provided its benefits stayed in force with its remaining signatories.
Iran’s foreign minister will travel to Moscow on May 14 and meet his Russian counterpart, Russia’s RIA news agency said, citing a Russian foreign ministry official.