European foreign ministers ahead of EU meeting 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Thierry Roge)
The European Union on Thursday agreed to draft new sanctions against Tehran that
would target its energy, transport and financial sectors; but stopped short of
formally pledging to consider an embargo on Iranian oil.
At a meeting of
foreign ministers in Brussels, the EU also added 180 Iranian people and entities
to a sanctions blacklist that imposes asset freezes and travel bans on those
involved in the nuclear work, which Tehran says is for peaceful
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Iran needs to “take seriously the international community’s
call for it to respect its obligations and move away from the pursuit of nuclear
weapon technology,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters
after the meeting.
Any sanctions would need the approval of all 27 member
countries. European countries have increased their focus on approving
stiffer economic sanctions, as it appears likely that Russia and China would
block any attempt by the UN Security Council to impose such harsh
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he was prepared to
agree to a crude oil embargo, but questioned its effectiveness.
prepared to go along with that,” he told reporters. “I don’t think it will
necessarily have that much of an effect because of the nature of the global oil
A diplomatic source said that Germany was also open to
considering an oil embargo as well as measures against financial
In the past, either step would have been taboo, the diplomat
said. “Now Germany is willing to discuss this.”
But when pressed by a
reporter about a possible EU oil embargo against Iran, Ashton said, “What we
agreed in the meeting, was to look at a range of issues including the energy
sector, but the detaila of what should be done now goes to the technical
experts, who decide what will work and what is appropriate for European member
states to do. So those issues will be debated.”
Iran’s nuclear program grew in November after the International Atomic Energy
Agency issued a report that suggested the Islamic Republic has worked on
designing an atom bomb.
Britain, along with France, had pushed for
decisive EU action after Tuesday’s storming of its Tehran embassy by protesters
angry over London’s decision to impose sanctions on the Iranian banking sector,
including the Central Bank.
Britain shut Iran’s embassy in London on
Wednesday, saying the attack on the British mission could not have taken place
without consent from Iranian authorities.
In solidarity with Britain, EU
foreign ministers issued a statement saying they were “outraged” by the Tehran
At Thursday’s meeting the EU also agreed to draft measures that
could lead to gradual cuts in Europe’s imports of Iranian crude, although some
EU governments want assurances that any impact on their economies would be
limited before giving their final approval, diplomats said.
working on it,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé told reporters when asked
about the possibility of an oil ban. “We have to work with different partners so
that the interruption of [oil] deliveries from Iran could be compensated by a
rise in production in other countries.”
Experts say global crude prices
could rise if the EU bans Iranian oil, increasing economic pain as Europe
struggles with a debt crisis and the specter of recession.
wary, because financial woes have led it to buy more Iranian crude. Sources say
Tehran has been offering better financing terms while banks are reluctant to
lend to Athens.
“Greece has voiced some concerns, we have to take them
into account,” Juppé said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said
after the meeting in Brussels details of any energy sanctions had yet to be
ironed out. He said the UK was eager to see the EU target Iran’s banking
“There is more work to be done on what we will do in the energy
sector,” he said. “So I think it would be going too far to say an embargo has
been agreed.” He argued previous measures had hurt Tehran’s nuclear
Hague said later: “The EU made very clear that it will not bow to
Iran’s intimidation and bullying tactics... We want Iran to come to the table
and negotiate meaningfully about its nuclear program. Despite events this week
we still want a diplomatic solution.”
Hague’s Italian counterpart, Giulio
Terzi, said the economic impact of sanctions had to be taken into consideration
when any new measures are finalized.
EU experts will discuss details of
new sanctions in the coming weeks, foreign ministers of the bloc’s 27 states
said in Thursday’s statement.
A new proposal for sanctions will be
presented to the foreign ministers at a January meeting. It is unclear if
there will be enough consensus among the member states to immediately approve