SOFIA - European Union leaders agreed on Wednesday to try to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive and maintain their reviving economic cooperation with Tehran after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact.
But the 28 EU leaders did not make any quick decisions during their first meeting on the matter since Trump quit the accord earlier this month, highlighting how U.S. clout in international trade and finance limits the Europeans' scope for action.
That was quickly brought home by the French energy giant Total which joined other European companies in signaling on Wednesday they could exit Iran.
"As long as Iran respects the provisions of the deal, the EU will also respect it," said Donald Tusk, president of the European Council and chairman of the leaders' gathering in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.
The leaders of Britain, France and Germany briefed their peers. The three countries were EU signatories of the 2015 deal that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program but which Trump dismissed as "the worst deal ever."
The head of the bloc's executive, Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission, has also presented options the leaders have to shield European investments in Iran and the slowly reviving economic cooperation, which many EU states hope to benefit from.
An EU source said after the talks the leaders agreed to start "work to protect European companies negatively affected by the U.S. decision."
Options include allowing the European Investment Bank to invest there and coordinating euro-denominated credit lines from EU states.
Foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain met their Iranian counterpart in Brussels on Tuesday and tasked their experts to come up with measures for a meeting of their deputies in Vienna next week.