EU nations push ahead with sanctions on Iran

IAEA official: "Sanctions are an important tool, but sanctions alone will not solve the issue."

UN security council 298 (photo credit: Channel 1)
UN security council 298
(photo credit: Channel 1)
EU foreign ministers moved ahead with plans Monday to implement UN sanctions against Iran, as the UN nuclear watchdog agency's chief appealed for a "time-out" on sanctions if Teheran suspends uranium enrichment in its nuclear program. Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said his time-out plan, which he proposed a few weeks ago, was meant to end the standoff between the West and Iran over its nuclear program. "The two parties need to take a time out," he told reporters after meeting Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. "Sanctions are an important tool, but sanctions alone will not solve the issue," he said, adding there was "a need to return to creative diplomacy." ElBaradei urged Teheran to seize "a window of opportunity ... to listen to the international community's need for reassurances about the peaceful nature of their nuclear program." "I don't think Iran will lose anything by agreeing temporarily to take a time-out," ElBaradei said. His plan calls for Iran to suspend its nuclear development program and the UN to suspend the application of sanctions so that talks on Teheran's nuclear intentions can resume. ElBaradei did not discuss Iran with EU foreign ministers who met separately and approved plans Monday for the way they will implement UN sanctions against Iran to punish Teheran for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment. The UN Security Council agreed in December to impose sanctions targeting people and programs linked to Iran's nuclear program, which the EU and others fear is being used to make nuclear weapons. Under the Dec. 23 decision, Iran was given two months to return to negotiations. On Sunday, EU foreign policy Javier Solana and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with Iran's top national security official Ali Larijani - the first talks since negotiations collapsed last year over Teheran's refusal to suspend enrichment, a potential pathway to developing nuclear arms. At a security conference in Munich, Larijani said Iran was ready to restart negotiations with the international community, but said it would not suspend its nuclear program as a precondition for talks. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also said his country would not give up uranium enrichment but was prepared to talk. EU officials reacted cautiously to Iran's offer. "I continue to be realistic," Solana told reporters. "We are open to negotiation, but Iran knows what we want them to do." French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste Blazy said the latest Iranian overtures "do not answer" UN demands that it suspend its enrichment program. On the sanctions, an implementation deal among all 27 EU nations was held up because of a squabble between Spain and Britain over how the British colony of Gibraltar, which Spain claims for itself, would implement the sanctions. The UN Security Council imposed limited sanctions to punish Iran for defying a resolution demanding that it suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce material to fuel nuclear reactors or to build bombs. Monday's decision means that all EU governments will uniformly implement regulations imposing the UN sanctions, which include a ban on selling materials and technology that could be used in Iran's nuclear and missile programs and the freezing of assets of 10 Iranian companies and individuals. The EU already has in place a de-facto 10-year ban on the sale of weapons to Iran. Its foreign ministers reiterated that a package of economic incentives remains on offer if Teheran abandons nuclear enrichment. Monday's move on the UN sanctions does not go far enough for Washington, however, which has called on European nations to follow the US in cutting trade ties with Teheran. Diplomats in Brussels said EU governments are free to go beyond the UN sanctions if they wish, but rejected any American pressure on the 27-nation bloc to do more. EU nations have long been divided over whether to cut trade ties with Iran, especially when many of them are keen to keep investments in Iran's lucrative oil and gas sector.