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France, Germany and UK seek exemption from US Iran sanctions

LONDON (AP) — Britain, France and Germany have joined forces to urge the United States to exempt European companies from any sanctions the U.S. will slap on Iran after pulling out of an international nuclear agreement.

In a letter made public Wednesday, ministers from the three European countries told U.S. officials they "strongly regret" President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran deal to which their nations also were signatories.

The agreement was meant to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Trump argued that it was insufficiently tough and has said sanctions will be imposed on any company doing business with Tehran.

The ministers — British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz — said they want the U.S. to "grant exemptions" for European Union companies that have been doing business with Iran since the nuclear deal took effect in 2016.

"As close allies, we expect that the extraterritorial effects of U.S. secondary sanctions will not be enforced on EU entities and individuals, and the United States will thus respect our political decision and the good faith of economic operators within EU legal territory," they said in their letter to In a letter dated Monday to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dated Monday.

They also said that Iran should not be cut out of the SWIFT system for international money transfers. Many companies from Europe and the U.S. have been steadily building up their investments in Iran in the wake of the nuclear deal, particularly in the fields of pharmaceuticals, banking and oil. Any sanctions could be damaging, especially if they affect business interests in the United States.

The ministers reiterated their view that the deal with Iran remains the "best means" to prevent the country from becoming a nuclear power. They also warned that any Iranian withdrawal from the deal would "further unsettle a region where additional conflicts would be disastrous."

The letter was published during a trip to Europe by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has backed Trump in declaring the nuclear deal too soft on Iran. Earlier this week, Netanyahu met with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who both reiterated their support for the accord.

He met British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday. May said that Britain, like France and Germany, believes the nuclear deal "is the best route to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon." "We will remain committed to it as long as Iran meets its obligations," she said.

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

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian sought to downplay the implications of the move and said it did not violate the terms of the deal. "It shows a sort of irritation, and it is always dangerous to flirt with the red lines," Le Drian said on Europe-1 radio.

"We must keep a sense of proportion and stick to the agreement," he said. "And today, the agreement is not broken and Iran respects totally its commitments."

Jill Lawless in London and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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