France's FM slams 'unacceptable' U.S. sanctions on Iran

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"But what is important is that companies and especially medium-sized companies which are perhaps less exposed to other markets, American or others, can make this choice freely". The nuclear agreement of 2015 is an important element of peace and security in the region, and we chose to support it, whatever the U.S. decision was.

For her part, Sahra Wagenknecht, president of the opposition Left Party (Die Linke), supported Merkel's position on the JCPOA and said that 'we have demanded a more autonomous and independent policy from the United States, and we are happy that we are no longer alone on that position'.

Sanctions are already beginning to bite with French energy giant Total preparing to pull out of a billion dollar gas project in Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to abandon the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran means European countries that have since invested in the country will be at risk once new sanctions come into effect.

CEO Soren Skou told Reuters on Thursday that A.P. Moller-Maersk was following suit.

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Maersk Chief Executive Soren Skou said: "With the sanctions the Americans are to impose, you can't do business in Iran if you also have business in the USA, and we have that on a large scale".

"I don't know the exact timing details, but I am certain that we're also going to shut down (in Iran)", Skou said.

But while voicing understanding for big companies anxious to protect their United States sales, he added that the European Union must stand by smaller companies which were willing to carry on Iran business.

Last week, the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, signed between Tehran and the P5+1 powers (China, France, Russia, UK, US, plus Germany) three years ago.

But the reach of the US financial system, the dominance of the dollar and the presence of European companies' operations in the United States all weaken any potential EU measures.

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