'America cannot do a damn thing': Iranians protest as Europe ponders next move on nuclear deal
French finance minister bemoans U.S. acting as 'world's economic policeman'
The fallout from the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw from a multilateral nuclear deal continued Friday with protests in Iran and differing views from French and German officials on how to placate the Americans while preventing an escalation of tensions in the Mideast.
Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a member of Iran's clerical elite, was not in a conciliatory mood at a protest in Tehran, accusing the United States of treachery.
"America cannot do a damn thing. They have always been after the toppling of Iran's regime and this exit is in line with that aim," Khatami said in a televised address to worshippers at Tehran University.
State TV aired footage of demonstrators shouting slogans against the U.S. and Israel at rallies in Tehran and other cities and towns nationwide after Friday prayers.
They chanted, "Mr. Trump you cannot do a damn thing," and, "We fight. We die. We don't surrender," in streets festooned with anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli banners and posters.
Khatami did not restrict his ire to the Americans, claiming the "European signatories also cannot be trusted … Iran's enemies cannot be trusted." Khatami said Iran, under the leadership of president Hassan Rouhani, should not make the same mistake twice by re-entering negotiations.
Rouhani said earlier in the week that Iran would remain in the 2015 pact, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The deal involved lifting some sanctions on Iran in exchange for comprehensive inspections of their nuclear facilities.
Time to push back on U.S.: France's La Maire
In Europe, France's finance minister Bruno La Maire says European countries should push back harder against the Trump administration over the Iran nuclear deal and not act as "vassals" to the U.S.
European governments are scrambling for ways to save billions of dollars in trade that could collapse because of Trump's decision this week to re-impose sanctions. Trump argued that the 2015 nuclear deal, which allowed for the lifting of sanctions, wasn't tough enough on Iran, focusing not just on their stockpile but what the U.S. sees as their attempts to destabilize the Mideast in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Israel.
Le Maire said on Europe-1 radio that Europe should not accept that the U.S. is the "world's economic policeman."
"Do we want to be vassals who obey decisions taken by the United States while clinging to the hem of their trousers?" Le Maire asked. "Or do we want to say we have our economic interests, we consider we will continue to do trade with Iran?"
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran accord isn't a reason to dump decades of transatlantic ties altogether.
Merkel took a more measured tone.
"This is a serious event. We have to say that. But it is not a reason to call into question the entire transatlantic partnership," she said during an appearance Friday in the western German city of Muenster.
She acknowledged it is uncertain "to what extent we can keep this [nuclear] agreement alive if a giant economic power doesn't join in."
Hands are tied: German official
Merkel's office said she spoke with Russian leader Vladimir Putin by phone on Friday, a week before the German leader travels to Sochi to meet the Russian president.
It said in a statement that they underlined their aim of preserving the Iran deal after the U.S.'s withdrawal, and that both expressed concern about recent developments in the region. An Iranian rocket barrage on Israeli positions in the Golan Heights prompted an Israel attack Thursday on Iranian targets in Syria.
Peter Altmaier, Merkel's economy minister, said Germany plans to stick to the deal, but there's little he can do to prevent German businesses from following possible American sanctions to protect their interests in the U.S.
Altmaier, in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio Friday, rejected an idea of compensating German companies that lose Iranian business due to new sanctions, and companies themselves must make "whichever decision is right in their individual cases" in continuing business with Iran.
The top diplomats of Iran, France, Britain and Germany are expected to meet early next week to discuss their next steps.
Le Maire proposed creating a European body that would have the same kind of powers that the U.S. Justice Department has to punish foreign companies for their trade practices.
As a result of the new U.S. sanctions, companies worldwide must stop doing business with Iran or risk U.S. fines or other punishment. The sanctions will not only bar U.S. companies from doing business with Iran, but they also will hurt foreign companies by prohibiting them from using American banks unless they cut links with Iran.
Effects would be felt across industries
European governments tried for months to persuade Trump to stick with the deal but failed, and now fear it will raise the risk of conflict in the region. Military tensions between Iran and Israel have already mounted, and oil prices are rising on the uncertainty.
Planemakers Airbus and Boeing, oil companies and auto manufacturers like France's Renault and Peugeot could be among companies hardest hit. Le Maire said France is pushing for exemptions for its companies, but that he has "no illusions" about a generous American response.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government tried to further pinch Iran's finances by disrupting a currency exchange network allegedly used to transfer millions of dollars to Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The Treasury Department said in a statement Thursday it took joint action with the United Arab Emirates against nine Iranian individuals and entities involved in the network, and threatened sanctions against any other companies that help those nine.
Iran said it may resume uranium enrichment at a higher rate in coming weeks if it finds the nuclear deal will not work anymore after the U.S. pullout from the deal.
China also signed off on the 2015 deal. Through a spokesperson, China earlier this week expressed support for continuing to operate under the framework of the JCPOA.
With files from CBC News and Reuters