Europeans planning to bolster economic sovereignty
France calls for creating a European body to counter US trade punishments
Merkel says US harming confidence in global order
Rouhani warns Europe has limited opportunity to preserve JCPOA
Russia: US withdrawal violates UN resolution
France urged European countries on Fridays to push back harder against the United States over the Iran nuclear deal, saying they should not act as “vassals” to the US.
European governments were scrambling for ways to save billions of dollars in trade that could collapse because of US President Donald Trump’s decision this week to reimpose sanctions. Trump argued that the 2015 nuclear deal, which allowed for the lifting of sanctions, had “terrible flaws”.
In announcing his decision, Trump said he will not only reinstate the anti-Iran sanctions but will also “be instituting the highest level of economic” bans against the country.
European governments tried for months to persuade Trump to stick with the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but failed. They say Trump's decision will raise the risk of conflict in the region.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Friday on Europe-1 radio that Europe should not accept that the US is the “world’s economic policeman.”
“Do we want to be vassals who obey decisions taken by the United States while clinging to the hem of their trousers?” Le Maire asked. “Or do we want to say we have our economic interests, we consider we will continue to do trade with Iran?”
“It’s time that European countries opened their eyes,” Le Maire said on Europe 1 radio.
The top diplomats of Iran, France, Britain and Germany are expected to meet early next week to discuss their next steps.
Europe needs new “financial instruments allowing it to be independent from the United States”, Le Maire said.
He proposed creating a European body that would have the same kind of powers that the US Justice Department has to punish foreign companies for their trade practices.
Plan to defend EU’s economic interests
Le Maire said France and its European allies plan to submit proposals to the European Commission that are designed to strengthen Europe’s capacity to defend its economic interests.
“There is a realization among all European states what we cannot keep going in the direction we are headed today whereby we submit to American decisions,” Le Maire told reporters.
Europe needed to toughen rules dating back to 1996, he said, adding: “France, together with other European partners, hopes to present proposals to the European Commission which go in this sense.”
As a result of the new US sanctions, companies worldwide must stop doing business with Iran or risk US fines or other punishment. The sanctions will not only bar US companies from doing business with Iran, but they also will hurt foreign companies by prohibiting them from using American banks unless they cut links with Iran.
Planemakers Airbus and Boeing, oil companies and auto manufacturers like France’s Renault and Peugeot could be among companies hardest hit. Le Maire said France is pushing for exemptions for its companies, but that he has “no illusions” about a generous American response.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also toughened the government’s tone in an interview with Le Parisien.
“We’re telling the Americans that it’s their business what sanctions they impose, but we consider the extraterritoriality of these measures unacceptable,” Le Drian said. “Europeans should not have to pay for US withdrawal from an agreement.”
German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said Germany plans to offer legal advice to help its firms continue to do business in Iran.
Altmaier said Germany seeks to stick to the Iran nuclear deal, but there's little he can do to prevent German businesses from following possible American sanctions to protect their interests in the United States.
Altmaier told Deutschlandfunk radio Friday he plans to continue "to talk with our American partners and friends very openly, very honestly and also very clearly" about Germany's interests.
He rejected an idea of compensating German companies who lose Iranian business due to new sanctions, and companies themselves must make "whichever decision is right in their individual cases" in continuing business with Iran.
International order at risk
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the unilateral US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal undermines confidence in the global order.
Germany, France and Britain have vowed to keep the JCPOA alive. Merkel noted in a speech Friday in the western German city of Muenster that it took 12 years of work to put together.
She conceded that "it is certainly anything but ideal".
Merkel said: "I think it is not right to unilaterally cancel a deal that was agreed, that was unilaterally approved in the UN Security Council. That diminishes confidence in the international order."
She acknowledged that it is uncertain “to what extent we can keep this (nuclear) agreement alive if a giant economic power doesn’t join in.”
Pointing also to the US withdrawal from the Paris accord on climate change, Merkel added: "If we always say that, if we don't like things and we can't achieve a new international order, everyone will do what they feel like, that's bad news for the world."
Merkel's office said she spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on Friday about efforts to preserve the Iran, a week before the German leader travels to Sochi to meet the Russian president.
It said in a statement that they underlined their aim of preserving the Iran deal after the United States' withdrawal.
On Thursday Merkel told Iran's president that she supports maintaining the nuclear accord as long as Tehran upholds its side of the deal.
In a telephone call with Hassan Rouhani, Merkel called for talks to be held in a broader format on Iran's ballistic missile program and its regional activities – including in Syria and Yemen, her office said in a statement.
Rouhani said “stamping on an agreement endorsed by a United Nations Security Council resolution will lead to damaging consequences on the world.
Citing Iran's military advisory role in Iraq and Syria as examples, Rouhani said even Europe has benefited from the Islamic Republic's successful anti-terror efforts.
"The battle that Iran and the people of Iraq and Syria fought against Daesh terrorists has brought relatively good levels of security to Syria and Iraq, and has benefitted the region and the world, including Europe," he asserted.
Europe’s ‘limited opportunity’
In the phone call on Wednesday, Rouhani told French President Emmanuel Macron that Europe has a "limited opportunity" to preserve the JCPOA.
"Under the current conditions, Europe has a very limited opportunity to preserve the nuclear deal, and must, as quickly as possible, clarify its position and specify and announce its intentions with regard to its obligations," he said.
Rouhani told Macron that Iran's rights under the deal related to the selling of oil, banking, investment and insurance must be "guaranteed" in a transparent and clear way.
Foreign companies who have contracts with Iran must also announce their decision after Trump's withdrawal from the deal, Rouhani said.
He also said Iran has met its obligations under the deal and has never enriched uranium for a weapons program.
Macron urged Rouhani to join France, Britain and Germany in sticking to the terms of the JCPOA, despite Trump's decision to walk away.
"The French president emphasized the willingness of France to continue enforcing the Iran nuclear agreement in all respects," the Elysee said in a statement after the call. "He underlined the importance that Iran do the same."
The statement said Macron and Rouhani had agreed to "pursue their joint work with all concerned states with the aim of implementing the nuclear deal and preserving regional stability".
In an interview with Germany's Deutsche Welle broadcaster on Wednesday, Macron said that the US withdrawal from the deal, was a "mistake."
He added that Europe needed to reaffirm its commitments to the JCPOA in an attempt to preserve regional stability.
"We stand today at a historic moment for Europe — Europe is in charge of guaranteeing the multilateral order that we created at the end of World War II and which today is sometimes being shaken," he added.
Breach of UNSC resolution
Russia's top diplomat denounced the US pullout as a “significant” violation of a United Nations resolution that endorsed the international document back then.
During a Thursday press conference with his visiting German counterpart, Heiko Maas, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Washington cannot unilaterally reinstate those anti-Iran sanctions, which were lifted by the United Nations.
“We are seriously concerned about the decision of the US administration to withdraw from the JCPOA, thereby committing a significant violation of Security Council resolution 2231,” Lavrov said.
Resolution 2231 was adopted by the UN Security Council in July 2015 to endorse the landmark nuclear agreement, which had been concluded days earlier between Iran, on the one side, and the 15-nation body’s permanent members plus Germany, on the other.
AP, Reuters and Press TV contributed to this story.