EU pledges steps to salvage Iran oil shipments ‘within weeks’

List of goals amounts to a refusal to accept that US withdrawal will end nuclear deal

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, looks at Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, second right, during a meeting of the foreign ministers from Britain, France and Germany with the Iran Foreign Minister and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, at the Europa building in Brussels, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. Major European powers sought Tuesday to keep Iran committed to a deal to prevent it from building a nuclear bomb despite deep misgivings about Tehran's Middle East politics and President Donald Trump's vehement opposition. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys, Pool)

The European Union set out to identify “practical solutions” for salvaging the Iran nuclear accord within weeks, as the bloc strives to contain the fallout from United States President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the plug from the landmark deal.

Technical experts from both sides were commissioned to find ways to maintain oil shipments and to protect European companies doing business with Iran, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters in Brussels late on Tuesday. The experts will also propose ways to avert disruptions in air, sea and land transport from and to Iran and to keep channels open for “effective banking transactions.”

The list of goals amounts to a European refusal to accept that Mr Trump’s decision last week to withdraw from the 2015 deal will spell its demise, underscoring a growing rift between the traditional allies. While members of the Trump administration have advised European companies to stop doing business with Iran now, Ms Mogherini said the European aim was “maintaining and deepening economic relations with Iran”.

“If we want to save this deal, which is not an easy exercise, we know that the sooner we do it then the easier it will be,” Ms Mogherini said, after meeting the foreign ministers of the UK, France, Germany and Iran in Brussels.

Both the EU and Iran have vowed to keep implementing the deal, despite the threat of US sanctions after Trump’s decision to withdraw.

EU leaders will debate their reaction over a dinner meeting in Sofia on Wednesday, while the bloc’s executive arm will discuss the technical preparations in a meeting also on Wednesday. Ms Mogherini raised the possibility of instituting a so-called blocking statute, which would protect European companies from any US sanctions.

She didn’t specify which measures could be put in place to bypass US sanctions, and protect European companies from potential punitive actions, repeating on several occasions that the technical details will be presented in a matter of weeks.