European Union unveils 'statute' to protect Iran trade against U.S. sanctions

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Much to Europe's displeasure, foreign companies doing business with Iran are also at the crosshairs of the USA sanctions.

The European Commission is activating the Blocking Regulation that was adopted in 1996 largely as a countermeasure to the United States sanctions against Cuba and Iran. "So we have the duty, the Commission and the European Union, to protect our European businesses", said Juncker.

The EU's blocking statute bans any EU company from complying with USA sanctions and does not recognize any court rulings that enforce American penalties.

The European Commission on Friday proposed to activate a dormant statute to shield European firms doing business with Iran from renewed US sanctions. The goal is to have the measure in force before August 6, 2018, when the first batch of USA sanctions take effect.

The Iran nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, ) signed by Tehran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, France, Britain, Russia and China - plus Germany on July 14, 2015, imposes strict restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in return for the loosening of economic sanctions. A spokesperson for the company told Climate Home News: "We take great care to ensure we always comply with applicable sanctions". Iran has warned that a loss of European Union business will force it to pull out of the accord, under which it agreed to stop enriching uranium in return for greater trade with the West.

"The American sanctions will not be without effect".

And, in a bid to reassure the Iranian government of the EU's political commitment to saving the nuclear deal, Energy Commissioner Miguel Canete is visiting Tehran this 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.

"As long as the Iranians respect their commitments, the EU will of course stick to the agreement of which it was an architect", said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. "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.

In recent days, several European companies have announced their intention to wind down business in Iran, raising questions about how much the EU can deliver on its promises.