Zarif: EU must increase Iran investments to save nuclear deal

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Iran’s foreign minister has said the European Union must increase its investments in Iran in order for an endangered nuclear deal to be preserved following the US’ withdrawal from the multinational pact earlier this month.

Mohammed Javad Zarif made the comments on Sunday in Iran’s capital, Tehran, during a meeting with Miguel Arias Canete, the EU’s commissioner for energy and climate.

“Under the current circumstances, the EU’s political will is not enough to preserve the nuclear deal,” Zarif said.

“The EU needs to take more practical strides and increase its investments in Iran if it is to continue its economic cooperation with the [Iranian] Islamic Republic.”

His remarks came after several European companies expressed concern about continuing business with Iran following the US exit, raising further doubts about the viability of the deal

Danish shipping giant Maersk Tankers, German insurer Allianz and Italian steel manufacturer Danieli have all announced plans to halt, or wind down altogether, operations in the country.

French energy giant, Total, has also warned it will pull out of a multibillion-dollar project to develop Iran’s vast South Pars gas field unless granted a waiver by US authorities.

‘This agreement works’

Under the 2015 deal signed in Vienna with six world powers – the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union – Iran scaled back its enrichment of uranium and vowed not to pursue nuclear weapons.

In exchange, sanctions on Iran’s economy were lifted and Tehran was allowed to resume trading of oil and gas in the international market. A total of $100bn in frozen Iranian assets were also released. Since then, Iran has gradually opened its country to foreign investments – including European ones – and welcomed more foreign visitors, injecting billions of dollars into its ailing economy.

But on May 9, US President Donald Trump’s announced a decision to pull out from the deal and impose tough economic sanctions – a move with major implications for the global oil trade and multi-billion dollar business deals.

Trump’s decision plunged the pact’s remaining signatories into doubt and discussion over its long-term future, with Tehran insisting that is “ready for all options” and that “the interests of the people of Iran must be assured” in order for it to stay in the deal.

Tehran also warned it could resume uranium enrichment “without limit” if the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), falls apart.

In recent days, top EU officials have vowed to continue working together to save the agreement.

Following his meeting with Zarif, Arias Canete echoed that pledge by expressing the bloc’s commitment to the pact.

“Our message is very clear. This is a nuclear agreement that works,” he told reporters.

“What he [Zarif] is asking the European Union is that we have to have concrete solutions in order to implement the European Union commitments, which is something that we fully recognise.”

Arias Canete said the announcement by several European companies “in cascade” that they will not continue investing in Iran had, however, made things “much more complicated at the moment”.

EU trade with Iran totalled in excess of 20 billion euro ($23.5bn) last year, with most exports being machinery and transport goods and the majority of imports being energy-related products.

On Thursday, the European Commission said it would launch the process of activating a law that bans European companies and courts from complying with US sanctions against Iran.

Jean Claude Juncker, the commission’s president, said it has a “duty to protect European companies” from Washington’s punitive fiscal measures.

The options being considered by the bloc to keep Tehran in the nuclear deal reportedly include new credit lines, increased energy cooperation and implementing EU laws to block European firms from caving in to US sanctions.

Arias Canete said Iranian officials were keen to mitigate the impact of US sanctions under a proposal for EU governments to make direct euro-denominated payments for Iranian oil to Iran’s central bank, bypassing the US financial system.

“The EU will consider it,” he said, adding that the EU needed to deliver fast on preserving oil trade with Iran.

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