European nations in Iran nuclear deal formally ask U.S. for sanctions exemption

Foreign and finance ministers from France, Germany and Britain have sent a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

France, Germany and Britain direct their request for exemptions, grandfathering to Pompeo, Mnunchin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and British Prime Minister Theresa May at the EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, on May 17. The three leaders are formally requesting relief from secondary sanctions the U.S. has threatened after announcing it won't abide by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. (Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press)

France, Germany and Britain are asking the United States to exempt European companies from sanctions on Iran.

The three nations' foreign and finance ministers have sent a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The European ministers say they "strongly regret" the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from an international nuclear agreement with Iran.

They ask the U.S. administration to "grant exemptions from U.S. sanctions for EU companies" that have been doing business with Iran since the deal came into force in 2016. They also say Iran should not be cut out of the SWIFT system for international money transfers.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, one of the signatories, tweeted Wednesday that EU "businesses must be able to pursue their activities."

Corporate giants that could be adversely affected by the U.S. action in terms of exports or planned ventures in Iran include Airbus, Total SA and Peugeot (France), Siemens and Samson AG (Germany) and BP, Rolls-Royce and British Airways (Britain).

The so-called E3 in the letter are requesting from the U.S. "exemptions to allow for economic relationships in key sectors, in particular in the fields of energy, automotive, civil aviation and infrastructure."

In the letter, the ministers reiterated their view that the deal with Iran remains the "best means" to prevent the country from becoming a nuclear power.

"There appears to be no credible alternatives at this time," they said.

They also warned that any Iranian withdrawal from the deal would "further unsettle a region where additional conflicts would be disastrous."

Retaliatory duties on steel announced

Donald Trump announced in early May that the U.S. would no longer abide by the terms of the 2015 accord. In addition to the aforementioned countries, it was signed by Iran, the European Union, Russia and China.

Soon after, Pompeo announced a series of sanctions directed at Iran, and warned that the U.S. planned to follow through with threats to punish European companies that continue doing business with Iran, which was allowed under the 2015 deal but would violate reimposed U.S. sanctions.

The publication of the letter comes a day after Iran said it was preparing for the resumption of uranium enrichment within the limits set by the 2015 agreement with the world powers. The modest steps appeared to be mainly aimed at signalling that Iran could resume its drive toward industrial-scale enrichment if the nuclear accord unravels.

The overall aggressive U.S. stance on trade deals and sanctions has chafed allies in Europe, Canada and Mexico, as well as superpower rival China.

Separately on Wednesday, the European Union said it will start imposing duties from July on a list of U.S. products in response to Trump's decision to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe.

European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said Wednesday that formalities in finalizing the list should be completed this month, and "the new duties start applying from July."

The EU says it will introduce "rebalancing" tariffs on about 2.8 billion euros' ($3.4 billion US) worth of U.S. steel, agricultural and other products, including bourbon, peanut butter, cranberries and orange juice.

With files from CBC News