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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Merkel defends Iran deal, as Europe ready for sanctions showdown with US

Angela Merkel said maintaining the deal didn't mean endorsing Iran's actions

Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, gestures while speaking during a budget policy plan debate in the lower-house of the Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. 
Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, gestures while speaking during a budget policy plan debate in the lower-house of the Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. 

Angela Merkel mounted a strong defence of the “anything but perfect” Iran nuclear deal on Wednesday after the country’s foreign minister said he was reassured by Europeans at talks in Brussels that the deal would survive the US decision to withdraw.

Speaking in the Bundestag, the chancellor told German lawmakers that staying in the agreement was the best means of dealing with the security challenges posed by Tehran’s regional aggression and military build-up.

"[Its] anything but ideal but it's not right to cancel this agreement in this situation now," she said. “This does not mean we are happy about everything Iran is doing, we have to talk about its role in Syria, its ballistic missile program, other issues, but the question is whether you can talk better if you terminate an agreement or if you stay in it.

“We say you can talk better if you remain in it,” she added.

The comments came just hours after the culmination of talks between European and Iranian representative in Brussels, the first such meeting since US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal last week, casting its long-term viability into doubt.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the talks had been constructive and said technical teams would come forward with proposals to ring-fence the deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), from external pressure. "From next week, intensive expert meetings will start in Europe. They must do the work, but they will consult us so that we are sure the actions they take are sufficient from our point of view," he said. "[Other countries] said that they would ensure Iran enjoys the benefits of the JCPOA.”

Despite the insistence that the European end of the deal can be kept alive, the threat of getting caught in the US sanctions net is a grave concern for corporations and banks that are prepared to do business with Iran.

French energy giant Total, which took a controlling stake in Iran’s South Pars 11 project last year, said on Wednesday that they would not invest further in the country without a sanctions waiver due to large business operations in America and their reliance on US banking institutions.

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson release a statement asking the US to refrain from an actions “that could prevent the remaining parties to the agreement from meeting their commitments under the deal” through the extra-territorial reach of the American sanctions regime. Mr Johnson called for sanctions relief on what he called “legitimate trade”.

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Mr Zarif also met with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels, who said that experts had already began drawing up measure to circumvent unilateral US sanctions which will be re-implemented in the coming months.

Yet speaking after the talks, Mrs Mogherini suggested that the European trio would not back down.

Cornelius Adebahr of Carnegie Europe said “As the main facilitator of the talks leading up to the JCPOA, the EU is its guardian of sorts. Moreover, Europe has the most to lose from a direct confrontation with Washington over Iran. The bottom line its [Europe’s] very self-respect as an international player is at stake.”