BRUSSELS — The European Union on Thursday urged Iran to respect the international agreement curbing the Islamic republic's nuclear ambitions, saying it aims to continue trading with the country despite U.S. sanctions.
The E.U. and major European powers — Britain, France and Germany — also said that they "note with great concern the statement made by Iran concerning its commitments" to the nuclear deal.
The joint statement came as the bloc struggles to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, a day after a new deadline from Tehran on finding a solution to make up for last year's unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the accord and re-imposed U.S. sanctions on Iran.
"We remain fully committed to the preservation and full implementation" of the deal, endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, said the E.U. statement.
The Trump administration pulled America out of the 2015 deal a year ago, saying it does nothing to stop Iran from developing missiles or destabilizing the Middle East. The Europeans insist that the pact is an important pillar of regional and global security and was never meant to address those other issues.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised address Wednesday that signatories to the deal now have 60 days to come up with a plan to shield his country — already laboring under economic hardship — from the sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump.
The E.U. powers say they "regret the re-imposition of sanctions" by the U.S. and remain "determined to continue pursuing efforts to enable the continuation of legitimate trade with Iran."
The Europeans have set up a complicated barter-type system to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran and so evade possible U.S. sanctions. The workaround, dubbed INSTEX, is not yet operational as Iran has not completed its part of the scheme.
The bloc said it plans to push ahead with "the operationalization of the special purpose vehicle 'INSTEX'."
The E.U. has also introduced a so-called "blocking statute" protecting European companies from the effects of U.S. sanctions, but many international corporations do more business in the United States than in Iran and have already severed ties there rather than risk running afoul of Washington.
In a message implicitly directed at the U.S. administration, the E.U. powers said "we call on countries not party to the (deal) to refrain from taking any actions that impede the remaining parties' ability to fully perform their commitments."
Despite the heated rhetoric, the Europeans insist that only the International Atomic Energy Agency can judge whether Iran remains in compliance with the nuclear agreement. More than a dozen reports have shown that Tehran is respecting it so far. A new report is due at the end of May.