Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the US is not opposed to European countries doing business with Iran
, contradicting President Donald Trump’s belligerent rhetoric against Tehran.
Tillerson’s remarks in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Friday came one week after Trump refused to certify the Iran nuclear deal and left its fate to the US Congress.
“The president’s been pretty clear that it’s not his intent to interfere with business deals that the Europeans may have under way with Iran,” Tillerson told the Journal.
Trump has threatened a “total termination” of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran unless Congress tightens sanctions on the country, which could make business with Tehran even harder.
Since the implementation of the deal, international banks have avoided handling Iran-related transactions for fear of falling foul of complicated US regulations.
Trump, which took office a year after the Iran accord came into force, has consistently voiced strong opposition to the deal. According to Iranian officials, Trump warned European businesses against dealing with Iran during the G20 summit in Germany in July.
The other parties — the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China — say they remain committed to the nuclear deal and are opposed to a re-imposition of sanctions on Iran.
European trade with Iran has surged since the nuclear deal went into effect in January 2016, but many companies appear to be having second thoughts about business with the Islamic Republic.
In his interview, Tillerson purportedly addressed those worries, saying that Trump was not opposed to their Iran dealings.
“He’s said it clearly: ‘That’s fine. You guys do what you want to do,” the Journal quoted the top US diplomat as saying.
Tillerson, however, said little about the fate of Boeing contracts to sell passenger planes to Iran or General Electric’s agreements to sell equipment and technologies to Iran’s energy sector.
Boeing reached an agreement with Iran Air in December for 80 aircraft valued at $16.6 billion, based on list prices. Iranian officials have said the deal’s value is closer to $8 billion.
Iran Air CEO Farzaneh Sharafbafi maintained last week that the aircraft order was still safe even if the US left the nuclear deal.
Trump alone cannot actually terminate the agreement but withdrawal by the US would render it virtually meaningless.
Speaking at a conference in Moscow on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed any unilateral change to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the nuclear accord is called.
Lavrov said any unilateral changes to the deal “could bury this agreement, which is vital for strategic stability and nuclear non-proliferation.”