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Bahrain, UAE affirm support for US strategy

TEHRAN, May 22, (RTRS): Europe’s energy chief will seek to reassure Iran’s top ministers on Saturday that the European Union wants to keep trade open despite the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal. Miguel Arias Canete, European commissioner for energy and climate, will meet with five top Iranian ministers over two days, including the Islamic Republic’s nuclear chief, oil minister and foreign minister.

EU leaders have united behind the 2015 accord, with Brussels considering banning EU-based firms from complying with the sanctions that President Donald Trump has reimposed and urging governments to make money transfers to Iran’s central bank to avoid fines. But EU officials admit there is a limit to what they can do to parry sanctions as a wave of European companies quit business with Tehran, fearing the global reach of US sanctions. “There is no magic wand beyond trying to offer Iran a bit of reassurance,” a senior EU official involved in Iran talks told Reuters. The mission led by Canete is a symbolic gesture to urge Iran’s leadership to stick to the nuclear deal and shore up support for the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani against hardliners looking to constrain his ability to open up to the West, EU officials said.

“The mission is very important to us because it shows the EU’s determination to stand by its commitment,” a senior Iranian official said. Europe sees the pact, limiting Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the relaxation of economic sanctions, as vital for international security. Trump denounced it as “the worst deal ever” for failing to curb Iran’s separate ballistic missile programme and its influence in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon. With the reimposition of US sanctions threatening the accord’s economic payoff for Tehran, EU diplomats worry they will lose what little sway they have in the Islamic Republic.

Canete will raise with Tehran the possibility of EU governments bypassing the US financial system by making direct payments to Iran for oil exports and to repatriate Iranian funds in Europe — though the move will be up to member states. In other efforts to shield European firms, the EU’s “blocking statute” would ban EU companies from complying with US sanctions and does not recognise any court rulings that enforce American penalties.

The EU is also seeking to allow the European Investment Bank to do business in Iran and to scale up euro-denominated credit lines from EU states. But some big names are already heading for the door. French energy group Total said it may quit a multibillion- dollar gas project that Tehran had repeatedly hailed as a symbol of the nuclear accord’s success. The first sanctions to snap back into place are limits on Iranian oil exports that choked off more than half of Iran’s oil exports after 2012 — largely due to European and Asian buyers cutting back. “One of the big factors for how the Iranians will react is what oil importers will do and how well the energy system can cope,” another EU official said. “It will be difficult for us to deliver on the benefits the Iranians are expecting.”

5 Iranians sanctioned
The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on five Iranians it said had provided Yemen’s Houthis with expertise and weaponry that were then used to launch missiles at cities and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. In a statement, the US Treasury named the individuals as Mehdi Azarpisheh, Mohammad Jafari, Mahmud Kazemabad, Javad Shir Amin, and Sayyed Mohammad Tehrani.

It said the first four individuals had worked with the Houthis through Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, while Tehrani had helped with the financing of the Revolutionary Guard. The fresh sanctions, part of Trump’s pledge to economically suffocate Iran in hopes of hampering the country’s development of nuclear weapons, come one day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would soon crack down on Iran’s support for the Houthis. Yemen’s government has been pitched against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement since 2015 in a war driving the country to the verge of famine.

Iran poured scorn on threatened US sanctions on Tuesday and told European powers to step up and salvage its international nuclear deal — though Germany signalled there was only so much it could do to fend off Washington’s economic clout. Senior Iranian military and political figures queued up to issue defiant statements a day after Washington threatened “the strongest sanctions in history” if Iran failed to make a series of sweeping changes. Two weeks on from Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear pact, his administration told Iran to drop its nuclear programme and pull out of the Syrian civil war among other demands, setting Washington and Tehran further on a course of confrontation.

“The people of Iran should stand united in the face of this and they will deliver a strong punch to the mouth of the American Secretary of State and anyone who backs them,” Ismail Kowsari, a senior commander with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency.

The head of Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy committee in parliament said that the only way to salvage the nuclear deal would be for the European signatories to stand up to the United States. “Today they must show their strength in the face of American pressure,” Alaeddin Borujerdi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday told reporters in Argentina he would travel on from there to Washington to discuss the nuclear deal with Pompeo. He gave no date for his meeting.

Germany’s economy minister earlier told a newspaper the Berlin government would help German firms with business in Iran where it could, but could not entirely shield them from the US decision to quit the Iran nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions.

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