1125 GMT July 21, 2018
Paris has sought waivers for its companies in Iran after US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic following its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Paris had singled out key areas where it expected either exemptions or extended wind-down periods for French companies, including energy, banking, pharmaceuticals and automotive, Reuters reported.
French officials had expressed little hope for securing the waivers, which were critical for oil and gas major Total to continue a multi-billion-dollar gas project in Iran and for car-maker PSA Group to pursue its joint venture.
"We have just received Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's response: it's negative," Le Maire told Le Figaro in an interview published on Friday.
Mr Le Maire said Europe needed to react quickly and protect its economic sovereignty.
"Europe must provide itself with the tools it needs to defend itself against extra-territorial sanctions," Le Maire added.
Washington announced in May it was imposing new economic penalties on Teheran after pulling out of a multilateral agreement, under which Teheran had agreed to curb its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.
Trump's sanctions are aimed at pressuring Iran to negotiate a new agreement to halt its nuclear programs that might include Teheran's regional activities and ballistics development.
In particular, Washington wants to curtail the oil exports that are key to Iran's economic revival.
Foreign and finance ministers of France, Germany and Britain wrote a letter to senior US officials last month, singling out key areas which they wanted to be excluded from US sanctions.
In their letter, the European ministers wanted key areas, including pharmaceuticals, healthcare, energy, automotive, civil aviation, infrastructure and banking to be exempted.
The ministers have said US measures, including its secondary sanctions that could prevent the European Union from continuing to uphold the nuclear agreement with Iran, would harm Europe’s security interests.
Earlier in June, Le Maire said that Europe had to build independent financial institutions that would be immune to US penalties which he said are already making it impossible for European companies to do business with Iran.
The European Union is currently locked in a trade dispute with the US.
Iran has strongly criticized Trump's decision to pull America out of the nuclear deal - the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as it is technically called. It says the move is a clear violation of the JCPOA, emphasizing that other signatories should provide assurances that Iran continues to benefit from the economic advantages envisaged in the deal.
Europe has pledged to put together an economic package for Iran so that the country benefits from staying in the deal but France said on July 6 the offer was unlikely to come by before November.