Europeans Ask Trump For Sanctions Exemption In Bid To Save Iran Nuclear Deal

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

Three European countries and the European Union are directly appealing the Trump administration for exemptions to planned U.S. sanctions on Iran, the latest sign that a bid to hold together the nuclear deal with Tehran is on shaky ground.

In a letter dated Monday to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, ministers from Britain, France and Germany said the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — formally named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — remains “critical for protecting our collective security interests.”

“As allies, we expect that the U.S. will refrain from taking action to harm Europe’s security interests,” the ministers wrote in the letter, which was posted to the Twitter account of French finance minister Bruno Le Maire on Wednesday.

The letter is part of the European Union’s campaign to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, which gave Iran international sanctions relief in exchange for limits on Tehran’s nuclear program. When the U.S. withdrew from the pact in early May, the Trump administration warned that it would impose secondary sanctions against overseas firms that continue to do business in Iran, including companies based in the countries that are party to the deal.

Since then, the EU has been working to preserve the framework of the nuclear agreement by reassuring Tehran that European companies will maintain their presence in Iran. However, several large European firms have already begun to wind down their operations in Iran in the face of potential U.S. sanctions, raising doubts about Europe’s ability to salvage the deal. (RELATED: Europe Seeks Ways To Shield Its Companies From US Sanctions — And Keep Money Flowing To Iran)

The letter from the European ministers asks Washington to “grant exemptions” for EU companies that have been doing business with Iran since the nuclear deal was enacted. It also requests that European government be allowed to “maintain banking channels and financing channels” with Tehran and that Iran not be cut out of the SWIFT system for international money transfers.

The ministers write that “as close allies we expect that the extraterritorial effects of U.S. secondary sanctions will not be enforced on EU entities and individuals, and the United States will thus respect our political decision and the good faith of economic operators within EU legal territory.”

The publication of the letter comes a day after Iran said it was preparing to resume uranium enrichment at the level permitted in the nuclear deal. Tehran also suggested that it would be able to resume uranium enrichment at an industrial level should Europe be unable to maintain its economic ties to Iran. (RELATED: Iran Says It Will Boost Uranium Enrichment If Europe Can’t Preserve Nuclear Deal)

The EU is expected to announce Wednesday that it is moving forward with its “blocking” statute to shiled European firms from secondary U.S. sanctions, the Wall Street Journal reported. Last used in 1996, the law prevents European companies and courts from complying with foreign sanctions laws, but it offers limited protections for large banks and companies with significant U.S. exposure.

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