France Calls U.S.'s Bluff

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PARIS: Europeans, fed up with having trade policies vetted by Washington, are gearing up for a fight. With the support of the European Union, France threatened counter-measures Tuesday if the U.S. opts for sanctions against French oil giant Total, which plans to invest $2 billion in Iran.

Under the D'Amato Act, the U.S. is obliged to sanction Total. But according to TIME Paris Bureau Chief Tom Sancton, that particular piece of legislation won't wash in Europe: "The French in particular totally reject the legitimacy and the legality of the D’Amato Act," says Sancton. "This is not simply Paris goading Washington or testing U.S. resolve. The French genuinely believe this legislation compromises their economic interests — and with a really huge oil field at stake, they have the incentive to challenge it."

President Clinton has 180 days to find a solution. His priority, says Sancton, will be to avoid a shouting match with America's allies — in which the only real winner would be Iran.