European companies are leaving the Islamic Republic of Iran in droves fearing U.S. sanctions after President Donald Trump’s decided to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal earlier this month. The regime in Tehran is “particularly concerned by the decisions of various European companies to halt their Iranian operations until the future of sanctions was clear,” several German newspapers reported on Monday.

“The cascade of decisions by EU companies to end their activities in Iran makes things much more complicated,” Iranian Foreign Minister said. The statement comes days after the French oil company Total pulled out $5 billion worth of investments from the country fearing U.S. sanctions.

The EU, backed by the governments of France and Germany, has been scrambling to save the European business interests in Iran. German and French companies had made huge investments in Iranian oil and industrial sectors since the nuclear deal eased sanction on the regime three years ago.

The EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads the bloc’s executive arm, proposed enacting laws to allow European companies to ignore the U.S. sanctions. This so-called ‘blocking statute’ could protect European firms from prosecution by the U.S. Treasury and other agencies.

The Trump administration has made its intentions clear to go after any foreign player found guilty of sanctions-busting in Iran. “US withdrawal and new raft of sanctions will hurt a number of European firms with connections to Iran. Washington has threatened to hold anyone doing prohibited business in Iran to account.” Germany’s state-run DW News confirmed.

German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif’s comments that were made at a meeting with a senior EU official in Tehran:

Iran has called for EU’s support in saving the nuclear deal–primarily through more European investments.

Europe declares its political commitment to the deal, but large European companies want to pull out of the country, complained the Iranian Foreign Minister.

Iran doesn’t consider the political support from the European Union to be sufficient to save the nuclear deal. Country’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made that clear during his meeting with the EU Commissioner for Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete. The EU needs to undertake practical measures “in order to increase investments in Iran,” Zarif said–as reported by Iran’s state-run news agency. The EU commitment to the nuclear deal is not in tune with the calls made by big European companies to leave Iran.

Several foreign companies have suspended their operations in Iran while they wait for the outcome of the talks within the EU. Last week, the French oil company Total announced its decision to end an investment project worth $4.8 billion if the company fails to get an approval from Washington. [Translation by the author]

The exodus of European investments from Iran is a diplomatic win for the Trump administration that has been urging the Western companies to end operations in Iran.

Earlier this month, National Security Adviser John Bolton announced that “it’s possible” for the European companies to face sanctions if they continued doing business with Tehran. The U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell called upon the German firms to stop trading with Iran. “US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately,” Ambassador Grenell said.

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a list of demands to Tehran: calling on the regime to immediately cease its nuclear program, end military activity throughout the Middle East and release all U.S. nationals held on spurious charges. He threatened “strongest sanctions in history” if Iran fails to comply.

The reaction from Tehran shows that European investors aren’t buying the assurances being given by the EU commissars. Many of the French and German companies fleeing Iran have profitable operations in the U.S. and don’t want to jeopardize their business relations across the Atlantic just to make a quick buck in Iran. With President Trump and the members of his administration acting in unison on the issue of Iran, European companies–unlike the EU officials–seem to have grasped the firmness of the U.S. resolve.

Watch: Secretary of State Pompeo issues a list of demands to Iran:


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