LONDON (Reuters) - European countries said on Tuesday they remain committed to the Iran nuclear deal despite President Donald Trump's decision to pull the United States out, and they called on Washington not to prevent other countries from implementing it.
Iran's president said Tehran would also continue to respect the terms of the 2015 deal, which imposed curbs on Iran's nuclear programme in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions. President Hasan Rouhani said Tehran would swiftly reach out to the deal's other signatories - Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - to keep it in place.
"Together, we emphasise our continuing commitment to the JCPoA," the leaders of Britain, France and Germany said in a joint statement, referring to the deal by an acronym. "This agreement remains important for our shared security."
"We urge the U.S. to ensure that the structures of the JCPoA can remain intact, and to avoid taking action which obstructs its full implementation by all other parties to the deal," said the statement, provided by British Prime Minister Theresa May's office after she spoke by phone to France's President Emmanual Macron and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Russia's envoy to the European Union said Moscow would also continue its efforts to keep the deal functioning.
The European leaders are concerned that Washington could use its influence over the world's financial system to prevent businesses in other countries that have not reimposed sanctions on Iran from doing business there.
As if to hammer home that concern, Trump's new ambassador to Germany, who presented his credentials in Berlin earlier on Tuesday, tweeted that German businesses should halt their activities in Iran immediately.
IRAN SAYS TO CONSULT
In Tehran, Rouhani, a relative moderate who faced down hardliners at home to reach the agreement with world powers as part of a policy to open up the country and its economy to the outside world, decried Trump's decision, but said Iran would stick to the deal for now, provided it still works.
"If we achieve the deal's goals in cooperation with other members of the deal, it will remain in place," Rouhani said in a televised speech.
"I have ordered the foreign ministry to negotiate with the European countries, China and Russia in coming weeks. If at the end of this short period we conclude that we can fully benefit from the JCPoA with the cooperation of all countries, the deal would remain," he added.
While most U.S. allies decried the Trump administration's decision to unravel the principal foreign policy achievement of his predecessor Barack Obama, the decision was hailed by Washington's two main Middle East allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of which long opposed the deal.
The deal was "a recipe for disaster, a disaster for our region, a disaster for the peace of the world," Israeli Prime Minister Benajmin Netanyahu, who has long opposed the deal vocally, said in praising Trump's decision to quit.
Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim power that considers Shi'ite Iran to be its main regional foe, also hailed Trump's decision.
"Iran used economic gains from the lifting of sanctions to continue its activities to destabilise the region, particularly by developing ballistic missiles and supporting terrorist groups in the region," said a Saudi Foreign Ministry statement.
But for major European allies, also at odds with Trump over a host of other issues from trade to efforts to tackle global warming, the decision represents a decisive setback.
Britain, France and Germany had lobbied the Trump administration hard in recent weeks to keep the deal in place, arguing that it had succeeded in preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons and that to renege on it would damage the credibility of Western countries in future negotiations.
EU countries believe it was their decision to stand with the Obama administration and impose firm sanctions against Iran's oil and gas industry in 2011 that pushed Tehran to the negotiating table in the first place.
"The European Union is determined to preserve it," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said of the agreement with Tehran, which she helped negotiate as coordinator for the Western countries. "Together with the rest of the international community, we will preserve this nuclear deal."
"I am particularly worried by the announcement tonight of new sanctions," she added.
Since the deal was signed, the EU has effectively lifted all sanctions against Iran, but Washington has kept some sanctions in place over Iran's missile programme, which was not covered by the deal. That has slowed down a promised boon for the Iranian economy, scaring off foreign investors and making it difficult for Iranian banks to forge links with the outside world.
France's Macron said he regretted Trump's decision and would still work on a broader agreement covering Iran's nuclear activity, ballistics programme and regional activities.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said scrapping the Iran deal meant more instability in the Middle East and said he "deeply regrets" the announcement by Trump.
"The EU and its international partners must remain committed and Iran must continue to fulfil its obligations," he said.
The chairman of EU leaders' meetings, Donald Tusk, said Trump's stance on Iran and international trade "will meet a united European approach". He said all 28 EU leaders would discuss the matter when they meet in the Bulgarian capital Sofia next week.
(Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Gareth Jones)
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Updated Date: May 09, 2018 02:07 AM