Israel on Monday welcomed the European Union’s decision to impose tough new sanctions against Iran, adding that these measures should now be followed by “similar action in other countries.”
The EU and Canada on Monday separately adopted new sanctions against Iran, targeting the country’s foreign trade, banking, energy and transportation sectors.
The moves are the latest in a series of measures taken by the international community since the UN Security Council adopted a new round of sanctions in June. The EU sanctions follow steep US measures signed into law earlier this month by US President Barack Obama, and – according to Israeli officials – the cumulative effect of these moves was that a clear message was being sent to Teheran.
That message, a Foreign Ministry statement read, was that Iran “should abide by the demands of the international community,” and that the international community would not “acquiesce to Teheran’s systematic disregard of international norms.”
Israeli diplomatic officials said that with the ratcheting up of sanctions, it was also important not to “take any options off the table,” meaning not to remove the threat of a military option, as a way of keeping the pressure on the Iranian regime.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast denounced the EU decision.
“Moving toward confrontational measures and supporting unilateral actions and damaging the atmosphere are not considered by us to be a good use of the opportunity,” Mehmanparast said, according to the state television network’s Web site.
EU foreign ministers in Brussels called the restrictions a “comprehensive and robust package” focused on trade, financial services, energy and transport, with visa bans and asset freezes for Iranian banks, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.
The ministers reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to work for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue, and backed a call to Teheran to resume meaningful negotiations. The EU’s new measures will come into force in the next few weeks, after they are published in the bloc’s official gazette, officials said.
“I think today we sent a powerful message to Iran, and that message is that their nuclear program is a cause of serious and growing concern to us,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.
“But our objectives remains to persuade Iranian leaders that their interests are served by a return to the table,” Ashton said. “Sanctions are not an end in themselves; our objective is, was, and will be to bring Iran to the table to resolve this issue.”
In Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner praised the steps, issuing a statement saying the sanctions “underscore the steadfast European and Canadian leadership to hold Iran accountable for its failure to meet its international obligations and set a high standard for global implementation of sanctions.”
The statement said the impact of the sanctions against Iran are already being felt, “as companies around the world refuse to do business with Iran rather than risk becoming involved in Iran’s nuclear program and other illicit activities.”
Teheran has sought to deflect pressure and further sanctions by displaying a willingness to talk about nuclear issues – a line reinforced Monday by Teheran’s senior envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and welcomed by Ashton.
“Iran is ready to go back to the negotiating table” quickly to discuss exchanging some of its enriched uranium for fuel rods for Teheran’s nuclear reactor, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh told reporters in Vienna.
He spoke after presenting revised proposals on a possible swap to IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, who was expected to relay them to the US, France and Russia – the three nations engaged with Iran in such an exchange.
No details of the latest offer were available. But under a similar deal in May with Brazil and Turkey, Iran agreed to ship 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, where it would be stored. In exchange, Iran would get fuel rods made from 20-percent enriched uranium. That level of enrichment is high enough for use in research reactors but too low for nuclear weapons.
Among concerns by opponents of the deal was that Iran has continued to churn out low-enriched material and plans to continue running a pilot program of enriching to higher levels, near 20% – a level from which it would be easier to move on to creating weapons-grade uranium.
The US and its allies argue that the sanctions are in response to Iran’s refusal to freeze all enrichment activities, and not in response to Teheran’s fuel swap offer.
EU exports to Iran – mainly machinery, transport equipment and chemicals – amounted to $18.2 billion in 2008. Imports from Iran, the EU’s sixth largest energy provider, amounted to $14.7b., with energy being 90% of the total.
The new EU restrictions are similar to measures adopted by the Obama administration, which has imposed penalties against additional individuals and institutions it says are helping Iran develop its nuclear and missile programs.
In Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the country’s new measures would include a ban on any new Canadian investment in Iran’s oil and gas sector, and restrictions on exporting goods that could be used in nuclear programs.
Iranian banks will also will be barred from opening branches in Canada, and Canadian banks will not be able to operate in Iran.
“These sanctions are in no way intended to punish the Iranian people,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “These targeted measures are designed to hamper attempts by Iran to develop nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs,” and to persuade the country to engage in negotiations.
Also on Monday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Teheran should stop its “irresponsible rhetoric” and take steps to end disagreements on its nuclear program.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday accused Moscow of turning against Teheran and joining the US in spreading lies about its nuclear program, in the latest sign that Iran was drifting apart from a onetime key backer.
Ahmadinejad’s words “are totally unacceptable to us; they distort
Russia’s objective approach,” the ministry said. “Instead of fruitless
and irresponsible rhetoric, Iran’s leaders should take concrete and
constructive steps to work the situation out.”
Russia has recently shown increasing frustration with Teheran’s
policies, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged Iran to find the
courage to cooperate with the international community over its disputed
Moscow has a series of energy and weapons contracts with Iran, including
a batch of S-300 ground-to-air defense missiles.
Last month, the Russian government said the new UN sanctions forbade
delivery of the weapons, while Iranian officials later insisted the
sanctions didn’t cover contracts signed before the restrictions entered