May 18 (UPI) -- European companies will be protected from U.S. sanctions triggered by President Trump's withdrawal from the JCPOA, the European Commission president said.
Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday there was a unified position in Europe that respecting the U.N.-backed agreement with Iran was essential for peace. The agreement, ratified by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany and Iran, gives Tehran relief from sanctions in exchange for commitments to scale down its nuclear research program.
So long as Iran upholds its end of the bargain, European powers will stay in the deal, Juncker said. U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to renege on the agreement, meanwhile, would reinstate Iranian sanctions. Those sanctions could spill over to European companies willing to do business with Iran.
"So we have the duty, the commission and the European Union, to do what we can to protect our European businesses, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises," the European president said in a statement.
Without relief, French supermajor Total said this week it would have to leave Iran. Speaking Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a U.S. think tank, Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné said the U.S. decision could put the advantage in the hands of U.S. adversaries.
"What would be not good neither for the U.S., nor for Europe, is if that at the end only Russia and China can do business in Iran," he said.
Total in July signed a contract with a Chinese partner related to phase 11 of the South Pars gas field off the coast of Iran. The terms at the time were in compliance with European, French and U.S. legislation, but the French company said the situation has changed.
In broader terms, the U.S. decision to leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is indicative of a growing rift in its relationship with Europe. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, this week signaled the historic alliance with the United States was unraveling with Trump at the helm.
"With friends like that who needs enemies," he stated.
Juncker said Friday that by Aug. 6, when the first set of U.S. sanctions go into force, European companies will be protected by blocking statutes that allows them to recover damages and nullifies the effect of any judgment imposed by a foreign court.
In the energy sector, the European Commission stated that Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias would head to Tehran for the weekend as a confidence-building measure.
"The commission is encouraging member states to explore the possibility of one-off bank transfers to the Central Bank of Iran," the European body stated. "This approach could help the Iranian authorities to receive their oil-related revenues, particularly in case of U.S. sanctions which could target EU entities active in oil transactions with Iran."