US again tells European banks trade with Iran is OK

AP News
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Posted: May 19, 2016 8:06 PM
US again tells European banks trade with Iran is OK

BRUSSELS (AP) — The United States and its partners in the Iran nuclear talks are trying anew to convince European banks and businesses that now-legal trade with the Islamic Republic won't be punished.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany and the European Union's foreign policy chief said in a joint statement Thursday that Iran deserves the sanctions relief it's due under last year's landmark nuclear deal. "This includes the reengagement of European banks and businesses in Iran," they said after meeting in Brussels.

"We will not stand in the way of permitted business activity with Iran, and we will not stand in the way of international firms or financial institutions' engaging with Iran, as long as they follow all applicable laws," the statement said.

Iran has complained that U.S. sanctions that remain on the country are preventing it from receiving the full benefits of the deal under which it agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The U.S. maintains it has met its obligations, but has been trying to convince foreign firms that some trade with Iran is now legal.

Thursday's statement was the latest of several attempts by the U.S. to encourage European financial institutions and other firms to take advantage of opportunities afforded by the easing of sanctions. Kerry and other top U.S. officials, including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, have tried to assure foreign banks that transactions with Iran that do not involve still-sanctioned entities are not illegal under U.S. rules.

But many European and Asian banks are still balking at doing business with Iran due to non-nuclear U.S. sanctions that remain. Those sanctions relate to Iran's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, human rights record and testing of ballistic missiles.

They are also concerned that the relief offered by the Obama administration may be rescinded by the next U.S. president. They want assurances in writing that deals they may make or coordinate with Iran will not punished.

The U.S. has been reluctant to offer this blanket assurance and officials have pointed out that it cannot force private companies to do business with Iran, particularly because of other concerns such as its antipathy toward Israel and poor banking regulations. Nonetheless, some Iranian officials have threatened to pull out of the nuclear deal for what they say are violations by the U.S.

Thursday's statement sought to ease those complaints, noting that the U.S. and European countries are "exploring possible areas of cooperation with Iran, including the use of export credits to facilitate trade, project financing and investment in Iran."

"Our governments have provided extensive guidance on the scope of sanctions lifted and those that remain in place and will continue to do so," it said. The statement added that foreign businesses maybe more assured by changes in Iranian government behavior.