Europe launches business safeguards for Iran trade

Exit raises doubts whether European leaders can keep the Iran nuke deal alive

In the past week, French company Total has announced that, unless it gets a sanctions waiver from the U.S., it will withdraw from the South Pars 11 oil project in Iran.

The European Union on Friday launched "the blocking statute" process to spare Europeans from USA sanctions on Iran as part of efforts to preserve the nuclear deal with Tehran. "But the American sanctions will not be without effect, so we have the duty... to do what we can to protect our European businesses, especially SMEs".

The European Commission said Friday it is taking steps to shield EU companies doing business in Iran after the USA government abandoned an worldwide nuclear deal and warned that it could impose sanctions on companies trading with Tehran.

The "blocking statute", which EU member states and the European Parliament must still endorse, is aimed at easing the fears of European companies that invested in Iran after the deal.

US President Donald Trump announced on May 8 that Washington quit the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which curbed Tehran's nuclear activity in exchange for lifting the UN Security Council's sanctions and unilateral restrictions introduced by the US and the EU.

U.S. sanctions must be reinstated within 90 to 180 days.

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The step comes after Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to Brussels and met with his British, French and German counterparts to discuss the future of the nuclear deal without the US.

In a Friday statement, the Commission also said it "will continue and strengthen the ongoing sectoral cooperation with, and assistance to, Iran, including in the energy sector and with regard to small and medium-sized companies".

Maersk, the world's biggest shipping container firm, the French oil giant Total and German-based insurance firm Allianz have already announced plans to withdraw from operations in Iran, to avoid new U.S. sanctions.

The EU's blocking statute bans any EU company from complying with USA sanctions and does not recognise any court rulings that enforce American penalties.

Meanwhile, the commission also stressed Friday that the European Union remains committed to its "essential cooperation" with the USA, which remains a key partner and ally.

Iran's exports of mainly fuel and other energy products to the European Union in 2016 jumped 344 percent to 5.5 billion euros ($6.58 billion) compared with the previous year.

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