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EU Cannot Protect Companies Against U.S. Sanctions, Says Economist

Carlos Tavares (C), chairperson of the managing board of French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen, talks flanked by Iranian Industry Minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh (L) and Citroen carmaker CEO Linda Jackson during his visit to the PSA Peugeot Citroen stands

Despite assurances from the EU that European companies will be supported in continuing to do business with Iran and shielded from U.S. sanctions, several companies have already announced they are cutting ties with Iran.

“EU officials emphasize firmly that they will support their companies in order to live up to the nuclear agreement with Iran,” Fereydoun Khavand, professor of Economics in Paris, said in an interview with Radio Farda, adding, “but it seems that the managers of European companies do not trust these assurances.”

After pulling out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran early in May, the U.S. set a 180-day “wind-down period” for international companies to cease their business relationships with Iran, lest they face sanctions on their operations in the U.S..

French automaker PSA, which makes Peugeot and Citroen cars, announced June 4 that it would pull out of two joint ventures to sell its cars in Iran to avoid the risk of U.S. sanctions.

Europe’s second-biggest car maker, PSA had secured deals in 2016 after sanctions were lifted with two Iranian automakers, Iran Khodro and Saipa.

Several oil companies such as Total of France, Eni of Italy, Repsol and Cepsa of Spain, as well as Hellenic Petroleum of Greece, have also started to wind down their oil purchases from Iran.

After oil and gas, the automotive industry is the most important branch of Iran’s economy. PSA, which sold more than 440,000 cars in Iran during 2017, is the biggest partner of Iranian car makers. The company does not only bring foreign investment into Iran, but also know-how, Khavand said, pointing out that it is likely that another French automaker collaborating with Iranian firms, will follow PSA’s example and leave the Iranian market.

“There is a danger that Iranian automakers will return to the catastrophic situation of 2012-2013 when sanctions created the worst conditions since the Iran-Iraq war.”

Some companies, such as oil giant Total, have announced that they will seek a waiver from the U.S. to be able to continue their business with Tehran.

However, referring to the threat by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to impose “the strongest sanctions in history” against Iran, Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne said recently that he was not optimistic that the U.S. would issue such waivers.

“The way the European companies and banks act indicates that the waivers will not be issued, and therefore we should consider their departure from Iran as finalized, unless a miracle happens,” Khavand said

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