European Union President Donald Tusk slammed US President Donald Trump on Wednesday, as EU leaders gathered for a summit in Sofia to find a common path forward after Washington withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.
"Looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, someone could even think 'with friends like that, who needs enemies?' But frankly speaking, Europe should be grateful by President Trump, because thanks to him we have got rid of all illusions. He has made us realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm."
The European Council president repeated his comments in a Tweet tagging the US president.
Tusk's words came as the EU heads of state meet in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on Wednesday and Thursday to explore options to keep the Iran nuclear deal afloat and respond to possible US tariffs on aluminum and steel.
The summit comes after Iran gave the EU "between 45 and 60 days to give the necessary guarantees to safeguard Iranian interests and compensate the damages caused by the US pullout."
The EU is hoping that Iran abides by the agreement as long as Tehran receives the economic benefits promised in the deal.
"I would like our debate to reconfirm without any doubt that as long as Iran respects the provisions of the deal, the EU will also respect it," Tusk said at a press conference.
The EU's hopes have been complicated by the fact that European companies would also be exposed to US sanctions imposed on anyone doing business in Iran. They are now scrambling to protect EU companies doing business in Iran before the US reimposes sanctions on Iran after the expiry of 90- and 180-day wind-down periods.
Read more: Iran deal: The European Union's ugly options
Steel and aluminium tariffs also a sore spot
Trump has placed import duties of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum on grounds of national security but has temporarily exempted EU producers until June 1, depending on the outcome of talks.
"Here again, unity is our greatest strength and my objective is simple — we stick to our guns. This means a permanent exemption from US tariffs on aluminum and steel if we are to discuss possible trade liberalization with the US," Tusk said
"The EU and US are friends and partners. Therefore US tariffs cannot be justified on the basis of national security. It is absurd to even think that the EU could be a threat to the United States," he continued.
Read more: Iran's military power: What you need to know
EU prepared to use legislation
Earlier on Wednesday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini briefed top officials at the European Commission on talks she had held the previous evening with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his German, French and British counterparts.
European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the EU was willing to a so-called blocking statute that would make it illegal for European companies to comply with US sanctions imposed on Iran and not recognize US court decisions that enforce American sanctions.
The blocking statute was developed in 1996 to counter US sanctions on Cuba, but has not been tested yet.
The statute would enforce legal penalties on EU companies complying with US sanctions on Iran, while providing compensation for any costs and losses suffered as a result.
"We notably discussed concrete practical solutions to make sure the EU can continue to live up to its commitments under the deal and protect our economic operations," said Avramopoulos. "We did discuss the possibility of applying our blocking statute. We are ready to do so, if needed."
cw, av/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)