US-EU on collision course!

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THE EU has officially adopted measures to protect European companies working in Iran when the US reimposes sanctions against Tehran. The EU will remain committed to the Iran nuclear deal, the European Commission (EC) said yesterday.

EC President Jean-Claude Juncker said: ‘In Sofia, we saw a show of European unity. As long as the Iranians respect their commitments, the EU will of course stick to the agreement of which it was an architect – an agreement that was unanimously ratified by the United Nations Security Council and which is essential for preserving peace in the region and the world.’

The US Treasury has said it is giving European companies three to six months to wind down their business in Iran or face sanctions as well. Washington also warned European firms will face penalties if they sign new contracts.

Juncker added: ‘But the American sanctions will not be without effect. So we have the duty, the Commission and the European Union, to do what we can to protect our European businesses, especially Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).’

In a statement yesterday, the EC 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.’ In a vitriolic speech to EU heads earlier this week, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk tore into President Donald Trump for pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement, and for threatening every country or company that has financial or trade deals with Iran with massive economic sanctions.

Tusk said: ‘Looking at the latest decisions of Trump; someone could even think: With friends like that, who needs enemies?’ With scathing sarcasm, Tusk told reporters that the EU should be ‘grateful to president Trump because thanks to him we have got rid of all illusions. He has made us realise if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.’ He added: ‘Besides traditional political challenges, such as the rise of China or the aggressive stance of Russia, we are witnessing today a new phenomenon – the capricious assertiveness of the US administration.’

He continued to call for the EU to unite ‘economically, politically and militarily … like never before’.

Some of Europe’s biggest firms had rushed to do business with Iran after the nuclear deal took effect. In 2017, EU exports to Iran (goods and services) totalled 10.8bn euros (£9.5bn; $12.9bn), and imports from Iran to the bloc were worth 10.1bn euros. The value of imports was nearly double the 2016 figure. Now, there are fears that billions of dollars’ worth of trade and thousands of jobs could be jeopardised.

Some of the biggest deals that are at risk include:

• French energy giant Total’s deal, worth up to $5bn, signed to help Iran develop the world’s largest gas field. Total now plans to unwind those operations by November unless the US grants it a waiver;

• Norwegian firm Saga Energy’s $3bn deal to build solar power plants;

• An Airbus deal to sell 100 jets to IranAir.