The US threatens European companies with sanctions after the withdrawal of the Iranian deal

Donald Trump is prepared to impose sanctions on European companies that do business in Iran following his withdrawal of the US from the international nuclear deal, his administration reiterated on Sunday.

Trump’s most senior foreign policy aides signalled that the US would continue pressuring allies to follow Washington in backing out of the pact, which gave Tehran relief from sanctions in exchange for halting its nuclear programme.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, predicted that “the Europeans will see that it’s in their interests to come along with us” rather than continue with the 2015 deal, under which major European corporations have signed billions of dollars of contracts in Iran.

Asked on CNN’s State of the Union whether that meant the Trump administration would impose sanctions against those firms, Bolton said: “It’s possible. It depends on the conduct of other governments.”

US sanctions on Iran reimposed following Trump’s withdrawal not only block American firms from doing business in the country, but also bar foreign firms that do business there from accessing the entire US banking and financial system.

Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state, said on Sunday wealth created in Iran under the terms of the nuclear deal “drove Iranian malign activity” in the region. He declined to rule out sanctions against European firms.

“The sanctions regime that is in place now is very clear on what the requirements are,” Pompeo said on Fox News Sunday.

Trump’s decision to scrap the nuclear deal was sharply criticised by European leaders, who have pledged to uphold their side of the agreement.

Alarm has been particularly high in France, whose energy giant Total last year signed a $5bn deal to extract Iranian natural gas. Airbus, the French-based plane manufacturer, has already begun delivering jets to Iran Air under a multi-billion dollar contract.

Volkswagen, the German automaker, has resumed exporting cars to Iran. Richard Grenell, the new US ambassador to Berlin, warned this week in a tweet: “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.”

Some European leaders have called for measures to nullify the US sanctions. Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, said last week: “We have to work among ourselves in Europe to defend our European economic sovereignty.”

European Union officials have indicated they may threaten similar measures to those that pressured then president Bill Clinton to give waivers to European companies under US sanctions on countries such as Cuba during the 1990s.

Trump himself hinted that there would be no concessions to European firms during remarks at the White House last week in which he confirmed the US withdrawal, which he promised during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanctions,” Trump said. “Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States.”

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi meets Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Beijing.
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Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi meets Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Beijing. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Pool/EPA
Trump claimed the nuclear deal was “decaying and rotten” despite general consensus that Iran was complying with it, had dismantled its nuclear programme and was allowing international inspections. Trump officials also complained about clauses in the deal that would have relaxed restrictions on Iran after about a decade.

On Sunday, Bolton asked on ABC’s This Week: “Why would any business, why would the shareholders of any business, want to do business with the world’s central banker of international terrorism?”

The US has said it will allow “wind-down periods” of 90 to 180 days, depending on the industry involved, for companies to scrap existing contracts in Iran. New business deals have been immediately barred.

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has embarked on a tour of the deal’s other member states. He spoke hopefully in Beijing on Sunday, alongside Chinese officials. Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said Trump’s decision was a “violation of morals” but said his country would remain in the deal.

“If the remaining five countries continue to abide by the agreement, Iran will remain in the deal despite the will of America,” Rouhani said, in remarks broadcast on state television.

Doubt has been cast over the survival of the deal by senior Iranian clerics and Revolutionary Guard officials. On Sunday, Prime Minister Theresa May told Rouhani in a phone call Britain and its European partners will remain committed to the deal as long as Tehran continues to meet its obligations. The British, German, French and Iranian foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Tuesday.