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May 9, 2018 3:05 pm

French Government Seeks Exemptions for Companies in Iran as Trump Pledges ‘Strongest Sanctions Ever’ on Tehran’s Rulers

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The headquarters of French oil giant Total near Paris. Photo: Reuters / Philippe Wojazer.

France’s economy minister promised on Wednesday to seek “exemptions” for French companies engaged in trade with both the US and Iran, as President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Iran nuclear deal raised fears across Europe about the economic effects of restoring tough American sanctions on the Tehran regime.

“It is not acceptable for the US to be the economic policeman of the planet,” Bruno Le Maire, the economy minister, said during an interview with broadcaster France Culture when asked about the prospect of French companies being penalized in America for trading with Iran.

Le Maire noted that France had tripled its trade with Iran in the two-year period following the announcement of the nuclear deal in July 2015. Any US punitive measures would compound the challenges faced by European companies that were already confronted with “considerable economic difficulties,” the economy minister went on to claim.

French companies including oil giant Total and car manufacturer Renault are among a list of high-profile US and European companies that will need to wind up their operations in Iran by November 14 this year — 180 days from the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal on May 8. Total’s US operations could face penalties if the company sticks with a planned $5 billion investment in Iran’s oil industry.

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Other impacted companies include American airplane manufacturers Boeing and Airbus, who face the loss of a $40 billion deal to supply Iranian airlines with new planes, and German car behemoth Volkswagen, which began selling cars again in Iran in 2017. Volkswagen’s second-largest market is the US.

On Wednesday, however, Trump gave scant comfort to European hopes that the US will soften its opposition to trade with Iran.

‘We will be putting on among the strongest sanctions that we’ve ever put on a country,” Trump said at the White House. “And they’re going into effect very shortly.”

Trump also praised the Iranians as “great negotiators” in a dig at former President Barack Obama’s former Secretary of State, John Kerry.

Kerry “never had a chance against the gentleman he was negotiating with,” Trump said, in a reference to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Trump said that he had first seen Zarif on a television show. “After about three minutes of watching the show, I said there’s no way that Kerry can negotiate against this gentleman,” he said. “And that turned out to be a fact. ”

The US president again cited Israel’s recent capture of Iranian nuclear intelligence as definitive proof that the Tehran regime has maintained a secret nuclear weapons program, despite the 2015 deal.

“That’s not a deal for the United States,” Trump said. “That’s a deal to hurt the world and certainly Israel. You saw [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu get up yesterday and talk so favorably about what we did.”

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