Britain brushes off Trump on Iran with $967 million solar deal

LONDON (Bloomberg) - The UK deepened its economic relationship with Iran in a solar deal worth US$720 million (S$967.33 million) less than a day after US President Donald Trump called the Persian Gulf nation a "rogue state" and threat to global security.

Current and former Iranian and UK officials gathered in London to announce a 600 million euro (S$967.33 million) plan to develop a giant solar park with cash from investors in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

The agreement underscores how difficult it will be for Mr Trump to dismantle the 2015 nuclear accord, or JCPOA, between six world powers and Iran.

"The British government has made it absolutely clear that it sees the JCPOA as important, it thinks the JCPOA should continue," Mr Norman Lamont, a former chancellor of the exchequer and member of Parliament, said at a press conference on Tuesday. "The British government is also backed by other governments in the UK and in Europe.''

The future of the accord, which caps Iranian nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, has been at risk since Mr Trump took office in January. Even as UN monitors have certified eight separate times since January 2018 that Iran is sticking by the terms of the accord, the US administration has accused the government in Teheran of violating the spirit of the agreement.

Mr Trump told leaders on Monday in New York it was "one of the worst" deals the US has entered.

All the other signatories to the nuclear accord - China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK - have announced that they're committed to keeping the deal.

The solar project by Quercus Investment Partners Ltd, a London-based renewables developer, shows international interest continues in Iran's market, despite Mr Trump's rhetoric.

"The fact that the European partners are rushing to Iran, for different industries, auto industries, energy industry, shows that they do not believe at all that the failure of JCPOA is an option," Mr Hamid Baeidinejad, the Iranian ambassador to the UK, said at the press conference.

The UK's trade with Iran rose 42 per cent from January to October in 2016 and 57 per cent in the same period in 2017, according to Mr Lamont. Global trade with Iran rose 13 per cent last year to US$113 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

"The opportunities are tremendous, they really are tremendous," said Mr Richard Bacon, a current member of Parliament from the ruling Conservative Party. "I sense that we're on the cusp of something very special, the scale of the opportunities is really quite extraordinary."

The UK investment follows separate announcements by China, the European Union, France, Japan and Russia that they'll continue to support the accord. There are also signs that European policymakers may be positioning themselves against a unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA.

"This would damage not only US interests but US international standing and credibility," 76 European leaders wrote in an open letter urging Mr Trump to stick with the agreement.

Should the US abandon the accord, the other countries "would work to see the nuclear deal continued with Iran, even in the absence of US participation, and that could include defending European companies and individuals from any re-introduced US sanctions and supporting legal action to do so."