Middle East

EU to sharply step up Iran nuclear sanctions: diplomats

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta (L) talks with European Union Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Security Catherine Ashton. (AFP PHOTO / Thierry Charlier)

BRUSSELS: EU member states agreed Friday to sharply step up sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program, focusing on dealings with its banks, trade and gas imports, diplomatic sources said.

A diplomat told AFP that the “tough package” of new sanctions will be endorsed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg Monday.

Another, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new measures include a ban on financial transactions, with some exceptions for those involving humanitarian aid, food and medicine purchases. Some other types of trade may also be allowed.

Last month, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Iran had to take urgent action to allay mounting international concerns over its nuclear drive as calls for tougher action increased.

A diplomat who asked not to be named said ministers will agree for the first time to hit Iran’s telecoms sector, targeting companies believed to provide financial support for Tehran.

All dealings between European and Iranian banks will meanwhile be banned above a certain “relatively low” threshold.

Imports of Iranian gas will be prohibited, a symbolic gesture since the amounts involved are small, but the move sits alongside a much more significant ban on imports of Iranian oil introduced in July.

Sales of graphite or aluminium which could be used in Iran’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs are also to be closed down, with other measures targetting its shipping industry, in an effort to curb Tehran’s ability to sell oil to obtain funds and hard currency.

An extra 30 companies will be put on a list of firms hit by an EU assets freeze.

“Coreper [a committee of EU ambassadors] agreed the sanctions package on [the] Iranian nuclear program,” said the diplomat in a message to Reuters.

The trade and finance measures mark a major step-up of European pressure on Tehran, amid growing concerns over its nuclear program, foundering diplomacy and threats of attack on Iranian atomic installations by Israel.

Iran denies its nuclear work has any military intentions and says it wants nuclear power for electricity supplies and medical needs.

The EU is also targeting Iran’s shipping industry.

More sanctions are also being prepared in the U.S.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 13, 2012, on page 11.




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