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EU threatens to slap sanctions on firms cutting trade with Iran under US pressure

The European Union has threatened to impose sanctions on companies that stop doing business with Iran in compliance with the US sanctions snapback mechanism.

“If EU companies abide by US secondary sanctions, they will, in turn, be sanctioned by the EU,” Nathalie Tocci, an aide to the 28-nation bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told Britain’s BBC Radio 4 on Monday night.

On Monday, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order, re-imposing a first round of unilateral sanctions on Iran, which had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The move came three months after Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the accord despite objections from the other parties to the deal – France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China – and the international community.

In a tweet, Trump described the fresh measures against Tehran as “the most biting sanctions ever,” warning that the countries doing business with Iran will “NOT be doing business with the United States.”

However, Mogherini and foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France issued a statement stressing that they deeply regretted the new US sanctions.

They also announced an update of the Blocking Statute to “protect EU companies doing legitimate business with Iran from the impact of US extraterritorial sanctions.”

Tocci further stressed the need for such steps “in order to signal, diplomatically, to the Iranians that Europeans are serious” about the nuclear deal. The potential EU sanctions, the official added, were “politically and symbolically” an important step.

During a trip to New Zealand on Tuesday, Mogherini called on European firms to defy Trump over Iran.

“We are doing our best to keep Iran in the deal, to keep Iran benefiting from the economic benefits that the agreement brings to the people of Iran,” she said. “We are encouraging small and medium enterprises in particular to increase business with and in Iran as part of something [that] for us is a security priority.”

The second phase of US sanctions against Tehran will come into effect in November targeting Iran’s oil industry and foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran.

In a televised interview on Monday, President Hassan Rouhani said that Trump wanted the entire world to impose sanctions on Iran, but had failed to achieve that goal.

“Even today, which sanctions have been re-imposed [by the United States], Europe has stood against America. This is while Europe was always an ally of America,” Rouhani said.

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