EU to tighten Iran sanctions
Britain urged Europe to isolate Iran financially as EU foreign ministers gathered to agree sweeping new measures against Tehran due to fresh concerns over its secret nuclear programme.
Thanking European Union countries for their "emphatic support" following the storming of Britain's embassy in Iran, Foreign Secretary William Hague said "I hope we will agree today additional measures that will be an intensification of the economic pressure on Iran.
"Peaceful legitimate economic pressure particularly to increase the isolation of the Iranian financial sector," he added.
Backing moves to tighten the financial noose, German counterpart Guido Westerwelle said the aim must be "to dry up Iran's financial sources."
Pressed into action following the publication of a new report on Iran's contested nuclear activity, the ministers are expected to slap an assets freeze and travel ban on a further 143 Iranian companies and 37 people.
The measures will concern "those associated with or providing support to Iran's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities," an EU document said.
Much of the international community fears Iran's nuclear programme masks a drive for a weapons capability, though Tehran says it serves peaceful civilian energy and medical purposes only.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who leads global talks with Iran on the sensitive nuclear issue, said "I'm still waiting for the letter" from the Iranian side following her offer to resume the negotiations.
Urging the EU's 27 states "to ratchet up sanctions" in the light of the attacks on the British embassy, Ashton said it was time "to make it clear to Iran that we are very serious."
But Europe remains divided over extending the blacklist to the country's oil sector or freezing the assets of its central bank.
Britain, France and Germany and Sweden favour a bar on buying oil from Iran, but with Spain, Greece and Italy significantly dependent on this resource "there will be no oil sanctions" announced Thursday, an EU diplomat told AFP.
"I'm sure there'll be a discussion" on oil sanctions, Hague said. "I think there will be a variety of views, I dont know what the outcome of that is going to be."
Hague reiterated Britain's angry condemnation and welcomed moves by France, Germany and the Netherlands to recall their ambassadors from Iran.
Sweden was "appalled and alarmed" by the incident, which was a "very worrying sign" of the power of certain political forces in Tehran, said Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
Bildt said he would argue in favour of an embargo on Iranian crude, which in 2010 amounted to 5.8 percent of total EU imports, making the country the fifth supplier at the time after Russia, Norway, Libya and Saudi Arabaia.
Of that total, Spain accounted for 14.6 percent, Greece for 14.0 and Italy for 13.1 percent.
EU diplomats said cash-strapped Greece led the opposition to an oil embargo, with one source adding: "Iran sells them on credit which is a considerable advantage these days."
The EU has already frozen the assets of hundreds of Iranian firms and in July last year adopted measures aimed at preventing new investment, technical assistance and technology transfers, particularly those pertaining to producing and refining gas.
© 2011 AFP