German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier lashed out at the Trump administration in response to Washington's ultimatum to cut all economic ties with Iran following the US pullout of the 2015 brokered JCPOA.
Almaier told Bild newspaper on Saturday that Germany should be assertive and defiant in the face of American sanctions by actually investing more in Iran. He said, “We don’t let Washington dictate [their will] on trade relations with other countries.”
"German businesses can continue to invest as much as they want in Iran," Altmaier said.
Noting that the rest of Europe and other countries across the globe should feel free to defy the Washington ban, he at the same time acknowledged the difficult reality that "many companies depend on loans from banks, most of which refinance themselves in the US – and it creates problems."
The German economic minister further told Bild that the world is on the brink of all-out economic war from which no one will come out ahead: "we are just a few yards from the edge,” and “a global trade war would not know winners, only losers." He explained that but a tiny minority of politicians will determine the fate of hundreds of thousands of European jobs that depend on US-EU trade.
"We have learnt from the past that mostly customers are suffering from trade wars as goods and services are getting more expensive,” Altmaier continued. "This trade war hampers economic growth and brings new uncertainties."
Indeed on the same day the German economy minister gave the interview, China’s state-owned energy giant, CNPC - the world's third largest oil and gas company by revenue behind Saudi Aramco and the National Iranian Oil Company - finally took over the share in Iran’s multi-billion dollar South Pars gas project held by France’s Total.
The Chinese energy giant took advantage of Trump's sanctions to step in the void left by the French major. Total had signed a contract in 2017 to develop Phase II of South Pars field with an initial investment of $1 billion, marking the first major Western energy investment in the country after sanctions were lifted in 2016. South Pars has the world’s biggest natural gas reserves ever found in one place.
Thus it appears, as Altmaier's words suggest, Europe will bear the brunt of lost jobs, opportunities, and major multi-billion dollar contracts in a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. Others like China and Russia appear already quite eager to fill the gap.
Altmaier's words came at the end of a week in which the EU invoked its so-called "blocking statute" and pledged to work to keep "effective financial channels" open with Iran. The blocking statute bans EU companies from complying with the extraterritorial effects of US sanctions, allowing them to recover damages arising from such sanctions, and declares null any foreign court proceedings seeking to impose penalties among EU countries.
Altmaier's controversial comments echoed similar comments from former Congressman Ron Paul. Just days ago, Paul warned that Washington is powerful, but Europe needs to “stick to its guns” against President Donald Trump’s threats that any countries doing business with Iran will not to do business with the US.
Paul said that while the US can “throw its weight around” the EU needs to “get some backbone” to resist Trump’s threats.
“If they stick to their guns I think the United States would have to adjust our policies a bit, because how are they going to enforce that? You know, if China and Russia and other countries and India, they do business with Iran — how are we going to punish them?” he said.
“In time people are going to realize we might have to adjust because countries are not going to tolerate what we have done,” he said.
Paul acknowledged that standing up to Washington might be difficult if major companies are faced with the threat of losing business in the US.