Minister President Reiner Haselhof of the eastern German land Saxony-Anhalt has urged the German government in an interview with the outlet Welt am Sonntag to reconsider its policy towards Russia in light of the US' withdrawal from the JCPOA (also known as the Iran deal) and potential sanctions from the US against European companies working in the Islamic Republic.
He notes that it is crucial for Germany at this moment to maintain contact with Germany's eastern neighbors, such as Russia. Haselhof also warned that unless normal relations between the two countries are restored, German businesses risk losing the Russian market.
"Sanctions ultimately lead to innovations and refocusing of those, who are targeted by them," he said, noting the rapid development of the agricultural sector and food production companies in Russia after 2014.
At the same time the politician admitted that it is highly unlikely that sanctions imposed against Russia, which are the result of the Ukrainian crisis, will be lifted any time soon. It is not the first time Reiner Haselhof questions the usefulness of European sanctions against Russia, with the latest such instance taking place in January 2018.
US President Donald Trump announced on May 8 that the US was withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an international agreement reached in 2015 by Iran, the United States, Russia, France, China, the UK, Germany and the EU. The deal was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to ensure the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, lifting economic sanctions against the country in return.
Trump has consistently been a harsh opponent of the Iran deal, calling it "defective at its core." He demanded to "fix" it, threatening to withdraw the US from the deal and to re-impose economic sanctions. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, heads of two of the EU's leading countries, attempted to convince Trump to stick with the deal, but these efforts ultimately failed.
The re-imposed US sanctions will affect any company doing business with Tehran, putting European firms at risk, as they have heavily invested in Iran and will probably be unwilling to break ties with it. The European countries are currently considering options to counter possible US sanctions against their companies. They also reaffirmed their commitment to the provisions of the Iran deal.
After the US president announced his decision, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker suggested that the EU should replace the US as an international leader. German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that Europe can no longer rely on the US and must develop its own foreign policy from now on. The French foreign and finance ministers have slammed the extraterritorial character of the future US sanctions against Iran.
Iranian officials warned the US against the move, saying the deal won't work without it, despite EU efforts. Russia has expressed its regret about the US decision to abandon the JCPOA, but noted that Moscow will remain committed to the Iran deal.