European Union defies Trump with move to 'block' US Iran sanctions

Behrouz Mehri AFP | Never far away in 2014 a year before the nuclear deal Total had a stand at Iran's oil and gas show

Behrouz Mehri AFP | Never far away in 2014 a year before the nuclear deal Total had a stand at Iran's oil and gas show

Once Iran's top trading partner and its second-biggest oil customer, the European Union has sought to pour hundreds of billions of euros into the Islamic Republic since the bloc, along with the United Nations and United States, lifted blanket economic sanctions in 2016 that had hurt the Iranian economy.

In a statement, the Commission said it had "launched the formal procedure to activate the "Blocking Statute" by updating the list of USA sanctions against Iran falling within its scope".

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Under the "blocking statute", companies hit by sanctions will also be able to seek compensation and won't have to comply with any United States court orders against them. The measure potentially could put European companies in a bind, as they could be forced to choose between compliance with the EU measure and USA secondary sanctions against Iran.

USA sanctions must be reinstated within 90 to 180 days.

The European Commission on Friday proposed to activate a dormant statute to shield European firms doing business with Iran from renewed USA sanctions.

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As the European Commission we have the duty to protect European companies.

The commission also launched "the formal process to remove obstacles for the European Investment Bank (EIB) to decide under the EU budget guarantee to finance activities outside the European Union, in Iran", the executive said.

"The American sanctions will not be without effect".

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It further pledged to continue energy sector cooperation, with EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete due to visit Tehran at the weekend.

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 USA sanctions.

The EU executive's announcement is in line with the decision made by heads of state and government at their informal summit in Bulgaria on Thursday in response to the reinstatement of US sanctions related to the withdrawal of the US July 2015 on the Iranian nuclear program, announced on May 8 by Donald Trump. "We will have to see whether those remaining in the JCPOA can deliver those benefits to Iran", he said in the Belgian capital on Tuesday.

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European investments in Iran, mainly from Germany, France, and Italy, have jumped by more than 20 billion euros since 2016.

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