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French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

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PARIS (Reuters) - The United States has rejected a French request for waivers for its companies operating in Iran that Paris sought after President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Le Figaro.

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.

French officials had expressed little hope for securing the waivers, which were critical for oil and gas major Total <TOTF.PA> to continue a multi-billion-dollar gas project in Iran and for carmaker PSA Group <PEUP.PA> 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.

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 Tehran after pulling out of a multilateral 2015 agreement, under which Tehran 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 programmes that might include Tehran's regional activities and ballistics development. In particular, Washington wants to curtail the oil exports that are key to Iran's economic revival.

Earlier this month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appeared to threaten to disrupt oil shipments from its neighbours if Washington pressed ahead with trying to force countries to stop buying Iranian oil.

(Reporting by Richard Lough, editng by Larry King)

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Reuters