US warns France against doing business with Iran
Washington, February 6, 2014
The United States has warned France that French companies - which sent executives to Tehran this week - will be punished if they violate US sanctions with Iran, US Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Separately, another US official this week said Kerry had told French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that the visit was "not helpful" and that it gave the wrong impression that the West could do business with Tehran as usual.
Iran welcomed more than 100 executives from France's biggest firms on Monday, the most senior French trade mission in years.
That trip followed an interim agreement reached by Iran and six world powers in November under which Tehran agreed to limit parts of its nuclear work in return for the easing of some international sanctions.
The deal called for negotiation of a full agreement within a year. The easing of sanctions, which began in late January, has prompted Western firms to race for business opportunities even though the bulk of international sanctions remain in place.
"While the French may send some businesspeople over there, they're not able to contravene the sanctions. They will be sanctioned if they do and they know it. And we've put them on notice," Kerry told CNN's Jake Tapper in an interview.
On Tuesday, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman told US lawmakers in Washington that Kerry had spoken to Fabius "about the trade delegation ... about how this is not helpful."
"Tehran is not open for business because our sanctions relief is quite temporary, quite limited and quite targeted," she said.
Sherman and US Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen also sought to address concerns in the Congress that too many concessions had been made to Iran in the nuclear talks.
While the initial agreement was "not perfect", it bought time to try to secure a comprehensive deal, US officials said on Tuesday.
In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticised comments made by Sherman at the hearing in Congress, without specifying which ones he was reacting to.
"Such talk isn't helpful and could adversely impact the (nuclear negotiations). US officials should stop such comments so that we can reach a solution," state media quoted Zarif as saying at a joint news conference on Wednesday with the head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Iyad Madani.
Zarif, however, acknowledged that "some comments made by Americans are for domestic consumption".
Asked about Kerry's conversation with Fabius, France's foreign ministry said the two men speak regularly and that the main French employers' association Medef had organised the trade delegation on its own initiative.
France, the euro zone's second largest economy, has for months vaunted an "economic diplomacy" drive to secure trade agreements abroad. However, Medef was behind the Iran trip.
"It was that organisation's initiative, in an exploratory capacity and in compliance with France's international engagements," the Foreign Ministry said in an online briefing. - Reuters