EU's Juncker says ready to retaliate if needed over new U.S. sanctions on Russia

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s chief executive on Wednesday said the United States had taken into account some EU concerns over new sanctions on Russia but Brussels was ready to retaliate within days if the measures hurt EU economic interests.

Speaking after U.S. President Donald Trump signed the measures, Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU would take counter measures if the U.S. sanctions harmed European companies involved in oil and gas projects with Russia.

“We are ready: we must defend our economic interests vis a vis the United States, and we will do that,” Juncker said, according to a transcript provided by his press team.

The U.S. measures, grudgingly approved by Trump despite his desire to improve relations with Moscow, have angered EU officials, who see them as breaking transatlantic unity in the West’s response to Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and support for separatists in the east.

Juncker told a German radio station that it was crucial to coordinate with the United States to ensure sanctions against Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis are effective.

German Economy Minister Brigitte Zypries said the sanctions could hit European firms involved in the construction, operation and maintenance of natural gas pipelines from Russia, an extra-territorial impact that Europe could not accept.

“I am counting on ... President Trump to use the leeway given to him by the law so that those sanctions don’t happen,” she wrote in the German weekly magazine Wirtschaftswoche. “That would be a clear signal that close cooperation between the USA and Europe will continue.”

If diplomacy fails, an EU document, seen by Reuters, says the bloc will prepare to use an EU regulation allowing it to defend companies against the application of extra-territorial measures by the United States.

Brussels also has plans to file a complaint at the World Trade Organization.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel, editing by Larry King