Defy Donald Trump and keep trading with Iran, France says

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European countries should continue trading with Iran despite President Donald Trump’s decision to re-impose sanctions, France’s finance minister has said.

Bruno Le Maire said Europe should not act as “vassals” to the US or accept that it is the “world’s economic policeman”.

He told Europe-1 radio he wants to create a European body that would have the same kind of powers the US Justice Department has to punish foreign companies for their trade practices.

Mr Trump said this week that the 2015 nuclear deal which allowed for the lifting of sanctions was not tough enough on Iran.

European countries say Mr Trump’s decision will increase the risk of conflict in the region.

“Do we want to be vassals who obey decisions taken by the United States while clinging to the hem of their trousers?,” Mr Le Maire asked.

“Or do we want to say we have our economic interests, we consider we will continue to do trade with Iran?”

European and American companies could lose billions of dollars in commercial deals struck since the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord, and lose access to a major new export market.

Planemakers Airbus and Boeing, oil companies and car manufacturers such as France’s Renault and Peugeot could be among companies hardest hit.

Mr Le Maire said France is pushing for exemptions for its companies, but that he has “no illusions” about a generous American response.

Meanwhile, the US government tried to further pinch Iran’s finances by disrupting a currency exchange network allegedly used to transfer millions of dollars to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The Treasury Department said it took joint action with the United Arab Emirates against nine Iranian individuals and entities involved in the network, and threatened sanctions against any other companies that help those nine.

European governments tried for months to persuade Mr Trump to stick with the deal but failed, and now fear it will raise the risk of conflict in the region. Military tensions between Iran and Israel have already mounted, and oil prices are rising on the uncertainty.

The top diplomats of Iran, France, Britain and Germany are expected to meet early next week to discuss their next steps.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stressed the importance of protecting Israel’s security but urged a “new path” of negotiations with Iran to calm tensions.

Later, it emerged Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have discussed efforts to preserve the Iran nuclear deal and prevent an escalation of tensions in the Middle East.

Ms Merkel’s office said she spoke to Mr Putin by phone on Friday, a week before the German leader travels to Sochi to meet the Russian president.

It said they underlined their aim of preserving the Iran deal after the United States’ withdrawal, and that both expressed concern about recent developments in the region.

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