The EU has officially adopted measures to protect European companies working in Iran if the United States reimposes sanctions against Tehran.
The Commission said in a statement it had "launched the formal process to activate the Blocking Statute by updating the list of US sanctions on Iran falling within its scope", referring to an original European Union regulation from 1996.
During their meeting with their Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif earlier this week, European Union foreign ministers discussed how best to keep the nuclear agreement alive without the US.
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Under the "blocking statute", companies hit by sanctions will also be able to seek compensation and won't have to comply with any USA court orders against them.
The step comes after Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to Brussels and met with his British, French and German counterparts to discuss the future of the nuclear deal without the US.
Measures could include retaliatory sanctions, allowing the European Investment Bank to invest in Iran and co-ordinating euro-denominated credit lines from European governments.
The Commission said the EU measure would come into force within two months, unless the European Parliament and EU governments formally rejected it, but that it could also be activated sooner if there was strong political support.
"The American sanctions will not be without effect".
Maersk, the world's biggest shipping container firm, the French oil giant Total and German-based insurance firm Allianz have already announced plans to withdraw from operations in Iran, to avoid new United States sanctions.
Earlier this year, the European Commission said it was looking to open talks with Iran regarding gas supply to the continent through the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), a huge pipeline under construction.
In a Friday statement, the Commission also said it "will continue and strengthen the ongoing sectoral cooperation with, and assistance to, Iran, including in the energy sector and with regard to small and medium-sized companies".
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump opted to withdraw the USA from a joint nuclear agreement with Iran, and chose to reinstate all sanctions that had previously been imposed on Iran, but were waived when the deal was signed in 2015.
European investments in Iran, mainly from Germany, France, and Italy, have jumped by more than 20 billion euros since 2016.
"As long as the Iranians respect their commitments, the EU will of course stick to the agreement of which it was an architect", said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.