May 17, 2018 16:49 Asia/Tehran

France urged European Union (EU) to protect firms doing business with Iran as the US moves to impose fresh sanctions on Tehran following its pullout of the 2015 nuclear deal.

French President Emmanuel Macron made the remarks upon arrival at the EU-Western Balkans summit in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, on Thursday.

He said that France backed proposals by the European Commission to safeguard and compensate European firms that might be hit by anti-Iran bans.

Asked about a threat by French energy giant Total to quit Iran, Macron noted that international companies must make their own decisions, but smaller ones needed protection to keep operating in Iran.

“International companies with interests in many countries make their own choices according to their own interests. They should continue to have this freedom,” he said.

“But what is important is that companies and especially medium-sized companies which are perhaps less exposed to other markets, American or others, can make this choice freely,” Macron added.

On Wednesday, EU leaders attended an informal dinner in Sofia, where they agreed on a “united EU approach” to keeping the Iran nuclear deal alive after the US exit, according to a source cited as saying by AFP.

Additionally, China’s Foreign Minister Wang-Yi and his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, met in Paris and underlined the need to preserve the Iran nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). 

President Donald Trump announced on May 8 the US withdrawal from the JCPOA. He also vowed to reinstate US nuclear sanctions on Iran and impose “the highest level” of economic bans on the Islamic Republic.

Tehran has said it would make a decision on its future role in the nuclear deal in the coming weeks following negotiations with the other sides.

On Tuesday, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany met with Iran’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif in Brussels and held negotiations aimed at protecting the JCPOA after the US withdrawal from the multilateral pact.