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Merkel Cool On EU Independent Payment System To Save Iran Deal

GERMANY -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks on next to Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) at the guest house Meseberg Palace in Gransee, Germany August 18, 2018
BERLIN, Aug 22 (Reuters)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday she agreed with her foreign minister that relations with the United States are changing but she stopped short of backing his call for a separate EU payments system to save a nuclear deal with Iran.

In a long column on how Europe should respond to U.S. policy under President Donald Trump, Heiko Maas, a member of Merkel's junior Social Democrat coalition partners, suggested that Europe needs its own payments system, independent of the United States.

European powers are scrambling to ensure Iran continues to get the economic benefits needed to convince it to stay in the deal agreed in 2015 with six world powers but which Trump abandoned in May. He has since imposed new sanctions on Iran.

"On the question of independent payment systems, we have some problems in our dealings with Iran, no question, on the other hand we know that on questions of terrorist financing, for example, SWIFT is very important," Merkel told reporters.

She added that it was very important to keep good co-operation with the United States in the area of security.

Maas wrote it was essential that Europe strengthen its autonomy by creating independent payment channels, a European Monetary Fund and an independent SWIFT system - a global network that facilitates many of the world's cross-border transactions.

A spokeswoman for the foreign ministry said the article by Maas in the Handelsblatt daily was intended to provoke debate on relations with Washington, including how European powers can keep the nuclear deal with Iran alive after the U.S. pullout.

Germany is discussing possibilities with partners, including Britain and France, said the spokeswoman. She added that keeping financial channels open was vital to save the deal, under which the Islamic Republic agreed to curb its nuclear activities in return for a lifting of international sanctions.

However, European powers appear to be struggling to find or agree on effective options.

Merkel, leader of Germany's conservative bloc, said she had read the article by Maas and that its broad thrust, calling for a new approach to the United States, chimed with her thinking.

"It was an important contribution as it expresses in other words what I have said, that the transatlantic relationship is changing, we need to take more responsibility, Europe has to take its fate into its own hands," she told a news conference alongside the visiting president of Angola.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Joseph Nasr Editing by Mark Heinrich)