By Parisa Hafezi

ANKARA, Aug 20 (Reuters) – Iran said on Monday that Europe should accelerate its efforts to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers that U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in May, as French oil group TOTAL formally pulled out a major gas project.

Efforts by the remaining signatories – EU members Britain, France and Germany plus China and Russia – to avoid its collapse are struggling as Washington has said any firms dealing with Teheran will be barred from doing business in the United States.

“Europeans and other signatories of the deal have been trying to save the deal … but the process has been slow. It should be accelerated,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said. “Iran relies mainly on its own capabilities to overcome America’s new sanctions,” he told a news conference broadcast on state TV.

European states have been scrambling to ensure Iran gets enough economic benefits to persuade it to stay in the deal, which Trump said was “deeply flawed”.

Washington imposed new sanctions on Iran in August, targeting its trade in gold and other precious metals, purchases of U.S. dollars and its car industry.

The European powers, China and Russia say they will do more to encourage their businesses to remain engaged with Iran. But the threat of U.S. sanctions has prompted many major companies to pull out of Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi after a joint news conference in Beijing, China December 5, 2016. REUTERS/Greg Baker

Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said France’s Total has formally left a contract to develop Iran’s South Pars Gas project. “The process to replace (Total) with another company is underway,” he was quoted as saying by state TV.

Carmakers PSA, Renault, and Daimler are also among those to suspend or drop plans to invest in Iran along with Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Telekom

Working to maintain financial channels with Tehran and facilitate Iran’s oil exports, the European Union has taken steps to counter the renewed U.S. sanctions, including forbidding EU citizens from complying with them or related court rulings.

Washington has said Iran’s only chance of avoiding the sanctions would be to accept Trump’s offer to negotiate a tougher nuclear deal. Iranian officials have rejected the offer.

The United States will impose tougher sanctions on Iran in November which will target Iran’s oil sale and banking sector.

Iran’s rial currency has lost about half of its value since April because of a weak economy, financial difficulties at local banks and heavy demand for dollars among Iranians who fear the effects of sanctions.

Under the 2015 deal, most international sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs on the country’s nuclear programme.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra and David Stamp)