By James Blitz in London and Fidelius Schmid in Brussels
Published: October 15 2007 22:09 | Last updated: October 16 2007 03:25
The European Union on Monday began to examine the possibility of beefing up sanctions by EU states on Iran, seeking to put renewed pressure on Tehran to suspend key aspects of its nuclear programme.
EU foreign ministers instructed experts to study further possible restrictions on Iran if it refuses to meet international demands to suspend uranium enrichment.
However, the EU made no mention of a French call for EU states immediately to implement new European sanctions without first waiting for the United Nations Security Council to act.
Instead, EU foreign ministers said the EU should consider what additional measures it might take “in order to support the UN process”.
The main thrust of international pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme continues to come from the UN. The US, Britain and France are strongly pressing for a new round of sanctions to be imposed at the end of this year unless it suspends uranium enrichment, a process which many states believe is aimed at giving Tehran a nuclear weapon.
However, Russia and China are blocking any new UN move, saying they first want to see whether Iran next month provides the International Atomic Energy Agency with essential information about its past nuclear activities.
The UN has already imposed sanctions on Iran in some 14 areas, including travel restrictions, arms restrictions and trade and investment. In several of these areas, the EU has decided to take a more rigorous approach than the UN, for example imposing full travel bans rather than travel restrictions.
France triggered controversy last month by appearing to propose that the EU should apply a raft of new sanctions outside the UN process. Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, had suggested the EU might consider extending the number of Iranian banks that are subject to sanctions, or target individuals beyond those whose assets have been frozen or who face visa bans.
However, EU diplomats said Monday’s decision reflected a compromise, under which the EU will first wait to see what action is taken by the UN after the IAEA reports.
A number of EU states – such as Germany – say the EU must not start applying sanctions wholly outside the UN framework, arguing that this would risk fragmenting the UN process. However, Mr Kouchner said on Monday said that if there was no agreement on a new round of UN sanctions by the end of this year, then the EU must “look at more individual kinds of sanctions”.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007