PARIS, May 11 (Reuters) - France pledged on Friday to push back against the threat of U.S. sanctions against French companies doing business with Iran, in the wake of Washington's withdrawal from the international nuclear agreement with Tehran.
The French government is seeking waivers and longer transition periods from the United States for companies such as Renault and Total, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said, while pressing for European Union measures to improve the bloc's "economic sovereignty" in the longer term.
"It's time that European countries opened their eyes," Le Maire said on Europe 1 radio.
President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal risks exposing European countries that have since invested in Iran to renewed U.S. sanctions after "wind-down" periods of three to six months expire.
Europe needs new "financial instruments allowing it to be independent from the United States", Le Maire said.
Germany plans to offer legal advice to help its firms continue to do business in Iran, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier also said on Friday.
France and Germany are among EU countries that had drawn up euro-denominated Iran export finance programmes to resist U.S. sanctions. But the severity of Washington's stance has raised doubts about their viability.
Le Maire said he had asked U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for temporary or permanent exemptions for French companies, citing carmaker PSA, drug giant Sanofi and food group Danone among those affected - in addition to Renault and oil major Total.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also toughened the government's tone in an interview with Le Parisien.
"We're telling the Americans that it's their business what sanctions they impose, but we consider the extraterritoriality of these measures unacceptable," Le Drian said. "Europeans should not have to pay for U.S. withdrawal from an agreement." (Reporting by Laurence Frost Additional reporting by Julie Carriat Editing by Richard Lough)