Trump warns Europeans not to try to evade Iran sanctions

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Trump administration is closely eyeing efforts in Europe to set up an alternative money payment channel to ease doing business with Iran and avoid running afoul of sanctions the United States (US) has levied on the Islamic republic.

The White House is putting the Europeans on notice, saying that if they try to do an end-run around US sanctions on Iran, they will be subject to stiff fines and penalties. Unfazed, the European Union (EU) is marching forward with the plan, which, if implemented, could further strain trans-Atlantic relations.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said preparations for the alternative system were “at an advanced stage.”

“I hope that we can announce the launch very soon,” Maja Kocijancic told reporters late last week in Brussels.

Getting out ahead of a possible announcement, a senior administration official told The Associated Press on Friday that the US will fully enforce its sanctions and hold individuals and entities accountable for undermining them. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the issue.

“The choice is whether to do business with Iran or the United States,” Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., told the AP. “I hope our European allies choose wisely.”

The US joined China, France, Germany, Russia and Britain in signing a pact with Iran in 2015 that offered to lift economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran’s pledge to rein in its nuclear weapons programme.

President Donald Trump called it a “horrible, one-sided deal.” He pulled out of the pact last year and restored punishing US sanctions on Iran. Tehran, which denies wanting nuclear weapons, continues to abide by the agreement, and the remaining five nations in the pact are trying to keep it intact.

Restoring the sanctions regime is part of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” on the Iranians to force them to radically alter their policies on developing ballistic missiles, supporting regional militant groups and violating human rights.