Thousands of Iranians have rallied in Tehran following Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from a multinational nuclear deal, just as the country’s foreign minister is set to embark on a diplomatic tour to negotiate with the landmark 2015 pact’s other signatories.
Demonstrators in the capital on Friday carried placards reading “Down with USA” and “[Donald] Trump, you are talking nonsense”, referring to the US president who called the deal “horrible”, “one-sided” and “defective at its core”.
They also chanted “Death to America” and “We fight, we die, but we do not accept any compromise”, the state-run Fars news agency said.
The 2015 agreement between major world powers – China, France, Russia, the UK, the US, Germany and the European Union – and Iran set limits on Tehran’s ability to produce nuclear material in exchange for sanctions relief and greater access to the global economy.
Responding to Trump’s announcement on Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani slammed the US decision and said he had ordered the foreign ministry to soon begin negotiations with the deal’s other signatories.
“If at the end of this short period we conclude that we can fully benefit from the [deal] with the cooperation of all countries, the deal would remain,” Rouhani said.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, will begin a round of visits on Saturday, a spokesman told AFP news agency.
Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said on Friday she would chair Tuesday’s talks in Brussels, adding that the bloc was determined to keep “this agreement in place”.
The US cannot undo the pact, she said on Friday, as “this deal is not a bilateral treaty”.
“It’s a UN Security Council Resolution, and it belongs to the entire world.”
‘No to extraterritorial sanctions’
France said it was drawing up plans to bolster Europe’s economic sovereignty as European companies stand to lose billions of dollars due to US penalties. Germany and France have significant trade links with Iran, as does Britain.
Bruno Le Maire, France’s foreign minister, said EU states would propose sanctions-blocking measures to the European Commission.
“There is a realisation among all European states what we cannot keep going in the direction we are headed today whereby we submit to American decisions,” Le Maire told reporters in the French capital, Paris.
“Do we accept extraterritorial sanctions? The answer is no,” Le Maire said.
“Do we accept that the United States is the economic gendarme of the planet? The answer is no.”
Le Maire said he was seeking concrete exemptions for companies already present in Iran, including Renault, Total, Sanofi, Danone and Peugeot.
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, said there was a “sense of urgency and a sense of frustration” among French officials.
She said that there was uncertainty if France’s Airbus would go ahead with a $25bn deal to supply more than 100 aircraft to Tehran.
Oil giant Total was meanwhile set to invest $5bn in South Pars, the world’s largest gas field, while carmakers Renault and Peugeot made deals worth $500m each.
In Berlin, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said Germany was ready to offer help, including legal advice, to its affected firms to enable them to continue doing business in Iran.
Around 120 German companies have staffed operations in Iran – including Siemens, which was in talks to develop Iran’s rail network – and some 10,000 German companies trade with Iran.
“We are ready to talk to all the companies concerned about what we can do to minimise the negative consequences,” Altmaier told Deutschlandfunk radio. “That means, it is concretely about damage limitation”.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said transatlantic ties had been gradually damaged by shifts in US policy.
“We are prepared to talk … but also to fight for our positions where necessary,” he told Der Spiegel magazine.
But the US ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, said firms should question the morality of doing business with Iran.
“Germany, France and Britain, the ‘EU3’, say themselves that Iran poses a threat. Do they want to do business with a threat?” Grenell told Bild newspaper.
Meanwhile, Europeans fear a collapse of the nuclear deal could also deepen conflicts in the Middle East.
Days after the US pullout, Israel carried out deadly air attacks on what it said were Iranian targets inside Syria. Israel said the strikes on Thursday were in response to Iranian rocket fire, a claim Iran said was “fabricated” and “baseless”.
Iran’s hardliners are already mobilising against any concessions to Europe, with Ahmed Khatami, a senior cleric, telling a crowd at Tehran University that European nations could not be trusted.
“America cannot do a damn thing. They have always been after the toppling of Iran’s regime, and this exit is in line with that aim,” he said on Friday.
“These European signatories also cannot be trusted … Iran’s enemies cannot be trusted.”
In a statement on Thursday, Iran said European countries “proved incapable of fully performing” even when the US was party to the deal, and must “proceed from giving pledges to taking practical action”.
Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from Tehran, said the cleric’s words were a “sign that hardliners in Iran have been emboldened”.
It also signalled that Rouhani’s government and moderates in the country “are in a fight not only to maintain the nuclear deal abroad but their own political futures here at home”, he said.