Iran FM Says 'Good Start' for EU Efforts to Save Nuclear Deal

Iran, Gaza, Trump's steel and aluminium tariffs on the menu at EU leaders' dinner in Sofia

Iran, Gaza, Trump's steel and aluminium tariffs on the menu at EU leaders' dinner in Sofia

"We all agreed that we have a relative in intensive care and we all want to get him or her out of intensive care as quickly as possible", European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters after the 90-minute meeting.

British, French and German foreign ministers met in Brussels on Tuesday to see how they can save the nuclear deal without the United States, but appeared hard-pressed over how their companies could continue doing business with Iran once Washington begins to reimpose sanctions.

He offered few specifics, but European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini was a big more specific, saying that proposals to save the deal included shielding European Union banks from USA sanctions, using European Union funding to finance deals, and continuing to buy Iranian oil and gas.

When he quit the deal last week, US President Donald Trump gave businesses a maximum of six months to wind up operations in Iran or face swingeing penalties under American sanctions.

"I cannot talk about legal or economic guarantees but I can talk about serious, determined, immediate work from the European side", Mogherini said.

The European Commission has been examining measures to counter the introduction of any US sanctions that might harm European businesses and is expected to unveil them to EU leaders at a summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Wednesday.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that "it won't be easy, that's clear to all of us".

"China will take an objective, fair and responsible attitude, keep communication and cooperation with all parties concerned, and continue to work to maintain the deal", Wang said, adding the agreement was "hard-earned".

Lavrov also voiced support for Iran's right to defend its "legitimate interests" as part of the agreement, which removed nuclear sanctions against Iran in early 2016 in exchange for certain limits to its civilian nuclear activities.

The U.S. pulled out of the pact last week and promised to impose tough economic sanctions on Iran.

Regular inspections have found Iran to be fully compliant with the restrictions imposed on its nuclear programme, which Iran insists was always peaceful.

Major European powers have sought to keep Iran in a landmark global nuclear agreement after President Donald Trump pulled the USA out of the pact and promised tough economic sanctions against Tehran.

In a pre-emptive strike on Tuesday, the U.S. treasury imposed new sanctions on the governor of the Iranian central bank, Valiollah Seif, and the Iraq-based Al-Bilad Islamic Bank - in both cases for allegedly moving millions of dollars to Hezbollah on behalf of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

"We have to be realistic about the electrified rail, the live wire of American extraterritoriality and how (it) can serve as a deterrent to business", Johnson told reporters.

She added: "Britain, France and Germany were of the opinion that the agreement against Iran's nuclear armament is an agreement that certainly has weaknesses, but an agreement we should stand by".

Measures could include retaliatory sanctions, allowing the European Investment Bank to invest in Iran and coordinating euro-denominated credit lines from European governments.

The European Union plans to switch to the euro for oil purchases from Iran, eliminating the USA dollar as the two sides work to protect bilateral trade against possible American sanctions, a Russian report says.

German exports to Iran totalled almost €3bn (£2.6bn) in 2017, while French exports soared from €562m in 2015 to €1.5bn in 2017.

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