German FM: We are fighting for Iran deal
China and Germany defended their business ties with Iran on Wednesday in the face of US President Donald Trump's warning that any company trading with the Islamic Republic would be barred from the United States.
The comments from Beijing and Berlin signaled growing anger from partners of the United States, which reimposed strict sanctions against Iran on Tuesday, over its threat to penalize businesses from third countries that continue to operate there.
"China has consistently opposed unilateral sanctions and long-armed jurisdiction," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
"China's commercial cooperation with Iran is open and transparent, reasonable, fair and lawful, not violating any United Nations Security Council resolutions," it added.
"China's lawful rights should be protected."
China, Iran’s top oil customer, buys roughly 650,000 barrels a day of crude oil from Tehran, or 7 percent of China’s total crude oil imports. At current market rates, the imports are worth some $15 billion a year.
State energy firms CNPC and Sinopec have invested billions of dollars in key Iranian oil fields such as Yadavaran and North Azadegan and have been sending oil to China.
The reimposition of US sanctions followed Trump's decision earlier this year to pull out of a 2015 deal to lift the bans in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear program.
Tuesday's sanctions target Iran's purchases of US dollars, metals trading, coal, industrial software and the auto sector.
Trump tweeted on Tuesday: "These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed, and in November they ratchet up to yet another level. Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States."
Fight to keep deal alive
Meanwhile, the German government said US sanctions against Iran that have an extraterritorial effect violate international law, and Germany expects Washington to consider European interests when coming up with such sanctions.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday that Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran is a “mistake”, and warned that isolation of the country could lead to “chaos”.
"We still think that it is a mistake to give up on the nuclear accord with Iran," Maas said in an interview with the daily Passauer Neue Presse.
“Nobody is saying the deal was perfect, but it is definitely better than having no deal at all,” he said.
Maas said that Germany and the EU will fight to keep the deal alive, even without the US.
"We are fighting for the deal because it also serves our purpose by bringing about security and transparency in the region."
Noting Iran's geographic proximity to Europe, Maas warned that "anyone who's hoping for regime change must not forget that whatever follows could bring us much bigger problems."
In a desperate bid to save the nuclear accord, European governments have pledged to do what they can to keep business links with Tehran.
European countries, hoping to persuade Tehran to continue to respect the deal, have promised to try to lessen the blow of sanctions and to urge their firms not to pull out. But that has proved difficult: European companies have quit Iran, arguing that they cannot risk their US business.
Among those that have suspended plans to invest in Iran are France's oil major Total, its big carmakers PSA and Renault, and their German rival Daimler.
Danish engineering company Haldor Topsoe, one of the world's leading industrial catalyst producers, said on Wednesday it would cut around 200 jobs from its workforce of 2,700 due to the new US sanctions on Iran, which made it very hard for its customers there to finance new projects.
The chief executive of reinsurance group Munich Re said it may abandon its Iran business under pressure from the United States, but described the operation as very small.
Turkey, however, said it would continue to buy natural gas from Iran.
In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iran Daily that a US plan to reduce Iran's oil exports to zero would not succeed.
US officials have said in recent weeks that they aim to pressure countries to stop buying oil from Iran.
"If the Americans want to keep this simplistic and impossible idea in their minds they should also know its consequences," Zarif said.
"They can’t think that Iran won’t export oil and others will export."
"The Americans have assembled a war room against Iran," Zarif said. "We can't get drawn into a confrontation with America by falling into this war room trap and playing on a battlefield."
Iran has dismissed a last-minute offer from the Trump administration for talks, saying it could not negotiate while Washington had reneged on the deal to lift sanctions.
In a speech hours before the sanctions were due to take effect on Tuesday, President Hassan Rouhani rejected negotiations as long as Washington was no longer complying with the deal.
"If you stab someone with a knife and then you say you want talks, then the first thing you have to do is remove the knife," Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on national television.
Reuters and AFP contributed to this story.