EU to issue stronger sanctions against Iran

June 16, 2008 10:49:16 AM PDT
European Union nations agreed Monday on the need for a new round of stronger sanctions against Iran to discourage Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said earlier Monday at a London news conference with President Bush that Britain will freeze the assets of Iran's largest bank, Bank Melli, and that the EU would target Iran's oil and gas sectors.

"Action will start today in a new phase of sanctions on oil and gas," Brown said. "We will take any necessary action so that Iran is aware of the choice it needs to make."

Brown said Britain was urging the EU - and that Europe "will agree" - to also impose the new sanctions because of Iran's refusal to halt the uranium enrichment that could be used for nuclear weaponry.

The EU has not yet announced stronger sanctions. But Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs and security chief Javier Solana, said EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday were prepared to take formal action and agreed in principle on the need for stronger sanctions.

"It is clear they are ready to move further. We will definitely take a formal decision," she said. Gallach would not speculate on the timing of a final decision. Solana met with Iranian officials last weekend before an EU leaders' summit in Brussels later this week.

First word of new sanctions came from Brown's London news conference. Later, Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, told reporters aboard Air Force One that an announcement was expected Monday from the Luxembourg meeting.

At their joint news conference, Bush and Brown both sent a strong message to Iran that it must end its pursuit of nuclear weapons or face a tougher international response.

"Britain will urge Europe - and Europe will agree - to take sanctions against Iran," Brown said.

Hadley and Brown's spokesman, Michael Ellam, both indicated that European nations had agreed in principle to target the Iranian bank, Bank Melli.

The United States last year accused Bank Melli of providing services to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

"There is agreement among all EU member states to freeze assets of Bank Melli," Ellam said.

The U.S. and some of its allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies that, saying its atomic program is aimed at using nuclear reactors to generate electricity.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed three sets of limited sanctions against Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment. The third round of U.N. sanctions passed in March introduced financial monitoring of Bank Melli and another bank with purported links to suspect Iranian nuclear activities, Bank Saderat.

Hadley said a new round of European sanctions would be a significant hardening of resolve against Tehran.

He said European foreign ministers are examining plans for sanctions on Iran's oil and gas sectors. The measures are complex, but "would be a major step forward," Hadley told reporters aboard Air Force One.

EU foreign ministers refused to comment on the timing of the tighter EU sanctions.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said the exact timing of the launch hinges on "how positive - or not - Iran's response will be to the economic incentives package."

Solana failed to win Tehran's support last weekend for a modified package of incentives aimed at getting Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

He had presented a package of economic, technological and political incentives drawn up by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. But Iran said it would not accept the package if it demands the suspension of uranium enrichment, government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said in Tehran.

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Associated Press writers David Stringer in London and Deb Riechmann aboard Air Force One contributed to this report.

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