Russia, China tighten Iran ties

 thedailystar.net  5/17/2018 6:52:19 PM 

Russia and China yesterday moved to extend their economic influence in Iran, while EU said they will begin moves to block the effect of US sanctions on Iran in the bloc from Today.

In one of the most concrete moves yet against renewed US efforts to choke off Iran economically, a Russian-led trade bloc signed an interim trade deal with Iran and signalled plans to negotiate a free trade zone.

Meanwhile, Iran's oil minister said that Chinese state-owned oil company CNPC was ready to replace Total on a major gas field project in Iran if the French energy giant pulls out.

The fate of Total's participation in the gas project demonstrates the difficulty the European Union faces in resisting Washington's move as European firms stand to lose much more from busting US sanctions.

Earlier this month US President Donald Trump's controversially pulled Washington out of an international deal with Iran that placed limits on its nuclear programme in return for easing economic sanctions.

China, Russia and EU members Britain, France and Germany were also signatories of the 2015 pact, opposed Washington's abandonment of the deal which Iran had respected.

But companies around the world now face a difficult choice as Washington has previously slapped huge fines on firms which bust US sanctions.

This week the EU launched work on a plan to keep the nuclear deal alive and French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday said that one reason is "so that our businesses can remain" in Iran.

But EU yesterday vowed to stick to the Iran deal as the bloc's leaders have mandated their Brussels-based executive to defend the interests of European companies dealing with Tehran from US sanctions if needed.

"As the European Commission we have the duty to protect European companies. We now need to act and this is why we are launching the process of to activate the 'blocking statute' from 1996. We will do that tomorrow morning at 1030," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.

"We also decided to allow the European Investment Bank to facilitate European companies' investment in Iran. The Commission itself will maintain its cooperation will Iran," Juncker told a news conference after a meeting of EU leaders.

Meanwhile Russia, one of the strongest defenders of the Iran nuclear deal, tightened its trade ties with Tehran.

In the Kazakh capital Astana, the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union trade bloc signed an interim trade deal with Iran that lowers tariffs on hundreds of goods.

The bloc that also comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, also plans to begin three years of talks with Iran that aim to create a free trade zone.

Beijing also signalled that it intends to continue trading with Iran.

"Under the prerequisite of not violating its international obligations, the Chinese side will continue to carry out normal and transparent practical cooperation with Iran," said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

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