World Powers Back Iran Oil Exports despite U.S. Sanctions Threat
Iran's remaining partners in the 2015 nuclear deal vowed Friday to keep the energy exporter plugged into the global economy despite the U.S. withdrawal and sanctions threat.
Three European nations along with Russia and China met with Iran to offer economic benefits and assurances that would lessen the blow of sweeping U.S. sanctions, two months after President Donald Trump walked away from the landmark nuclear deal.
They said they remained committed to the 2015 accord and to building up economic relations with Iran, including "the continuation of Iran's export of oil and gas" and other energy products.
Their foreign ministers agreed on an 11-point list of joint goals in Vienna, where the accord was signed three years ago with the aim of stopping Iran from building the atomic bomb in return for sanctions relief that promised greater trade and investment.
In the joint statement, Iran's Mohammad Javad Zarif and other top diplomats reconfirmed their commitment to the deal and its "economic dividends" for Iran, which has suffered worsening financial turbulence since Trump abandoned the accord.
- 'Protect companies from sanctions' -
Despite the U.S. threat to penalize companies and banks that do business with Iran, the remaining signatories said they would work to promote investment and trade.
They also vowed to maintain financial channels, promote export credit cover and air, sea and overland transport links, and to work for the "the protection of companies from the extraterritorial effects of U.S. sanctions."
"These initiatives are aimed at preserving the nuclear deal which is in the security interest of all," said the joint statement read out by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
There was no immediate separate statement from Iran, which on the eve of the talks had signalled disappointment about the measures then on the table.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani had Thursday told French President Emmanuel Macron by phone that the European offer of economic measures did "not meet all our demands," Iran's state news agency IRNA reported.
- 'Difficult situation' -
Since Trump's shock move in May, which dismayed all other signatories, Washington has warned other countries to end trade and investment in Iran and stop buying its oil from early November or face punitive measures.
The other partners so far appear powerless to stop their countries' companies pulling out of Iran for fear of U.S. penalties. Several major firms -- including France's Total and Peugeot, and Russia's Lukoil -- have said they are preparing to leave.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas conceded that "we won't be able to compensate for all the effects of enterprises withdrawing from Iran because they see their American business interests threatened by the sanctions."
"After the withdrawal of the United States, which we can't understand, we face a difficult situation," he added, but he stressed that "we want to make clear to Iran that it will still gain economic benefits through this agreement."
Iranians have complained that the hoped-for rise in foreign investment and trade after the deal has not materialized.
Since Trump's announcement, Iran's rial currency has fallen, prices have risen and the country has been hit by street protests and strikes.
Rouhani, who signed the nuclear deal, has been attacked at home by ultra-conservatives, who have denounced his willingness to talk to the West and accused him of hurting the economy.
Trump in May slammed the nuclear accord signed under his predecessor Barack Obama as "horrible" and "defective at its core," earning applause from Iran's regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Iran, which strongly denies ever seeking to build a nuclear bomb, has warned it could resume uranium enrichment for civilian purposes if the deal collapses.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed that Iran "will never tolerate both suffering from sanctions and nuclear restrictions."
Washington considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism with links to Lebanon's Hizbullah, Hamas in the Palestinian territories and networks in Iraq and Yemen, and demands it stop supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.