Can Tehran, Russia and Europe Sideline Washington to Save the Iran Deal?

European officials will work with Iran and its allies to maintain as many aspects of the Iran nuclear deal as possible, even without the support of the U.S., a top European Union official said following a meeting with Iranian officials over the weekend. 

“We have to preserve this agreement so we don’t have to negotiate a new agreement,” Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Union commissioner for climate action and energy, told journalists after holding several days of meetings with officials in Iran. “Our message is very clear: This is a nuclear agreement that works.”

On May 8, President Donald Trump decided to end the U.S.'s participation in the Iran nuclear deal, which was signed in 2015 by the administration of former President Barack Obama. Many European officials have since said that the European Union was prepared to uphold its end of the deal despite Trump’s decision to abandon it. 

Nevertheless, the U.S. has said it plans to impose secondary sanctions on any European companies or banks that continue to do business with Iran. To many companies, the prospect of losing all access to U.S. markets is a daunting one. The French energy giant Total announced last week that it would pull out of a gas deal it signed with Iran and begin winding down its current operations in the country if it did not receive a waiver from the U.S. allowing it to go ahead with the projects. Total had planned to invest at least $1 billion in Iran’s South Pars gas field.

Similarly, Danish and German companies announced that they would begin winding down their business with Iran.

In response, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the support of European officials would be insufficient without the United States, and implied that Europe was not doing enough to preserve the deal’s benefits for Iran. Iran has been lobbying for the EU to make direct deposits into Iran’s Central Bank to pay for Iranian oil, Cañete said. It is unclear how much benefit such deals would provide if European companies refused to do business with the country.

Russia and China have signaled that they planned to uphold their end of the agreement.

On Monday, newly appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Iran and pledged that the U.S. would impose even stricter sanctions on Iran than before.

"This is just the beginning. The sting of sanctions will be painful," Pompeo said during the speech at the conservative D.C.-based think tank Heritage Foundation. "These will be the strongest sanctions in history when complete... Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.”

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