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Iran Issues Top EU Foreign Ministers' Meeting

December 01, 2011

by Rikard Jozwiak

BRUSSELS -- European Union foreign ministers have beefed up their sanctions against Iran at a meeting in Brussels in the aftermath of this week's storming of the British Embassy in Tehran.

The ministers imposed asset freezes and travel bans on 180 Iranian individuals and entities subject to EU asset freezes and travel bans in response to a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which suggested that Iran was working on developing nuclear weapons.

Some 35 individuals and 215 entities associated with Iran's nuclear program were already targeted by similar measures, and another 61 individuals are on an EU blacklist for human rights abuses.

Conclusions agreed by all 27 ministers state that the EU will examine "measures aimed at severely affecting the Iranian financial system, in the transport sector, in the energy sector, measures against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as in other areas."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe indicated that the EU will also continue to look into imposing an oil embargo but that nothing was decided yet.

Greece, which is a considerable importer of Iranian oil is still reluctant to support such a move but Juppe said that imports from Libya could offset an Iranian embargo in the future.

Speaking ahead of the December 1 meeting, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that he was grateful for the support that other EU member states had shown London in recent days and underlined that more sanctions against Iran will be adopted, which he said would involve "an intensification of...peaceful, legitimate, economic pressure -- particularly to increase the isolation of the Iranian financial sector."

New Sanctions Likely

European diplomats had said they were determined to move ahead with new sanctions despite the violent reaction in Iran on November 29 to punitive measures imposed by the United Kingdom.

After London cut off all ties with Iran's financial sector last week, including the country's Central Bank, dozens of hard-line Iranian students stormed the British Embassy in Tehran, removing the mission's flag and ransacking offices inside. Six members of the staff were also held hostage but later released.

In response, on November 30 Britain ordered the immediate closure of Iran's embassy in London and closed its own embassy in Tehran.

The EU said ministers also placed sanctions on more Syrians to pressure Damascus over its crackdown on protests.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told journalists that Berlin stood ready to give more assistance to Britain in Iran.

"We offered the British government consular protection for their own citizens in Iran," he said. "We decided to call back our German ambassador in Iran for consultation in Berlin. This is a very serious development and I think that it is important that the European Union find an answer in solidarity."

The foreign ministers were also due to discuss whether the EU as a whole should follow Britain's lead in banning business with Iran's central bank. The idea of imposing an oil embargo also appears to be gaining traction among some member states.

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton indicated that all options will remain on the table.

"We are talking about a range of sanctions," she said. "It will be decided [on December 1] exactly what those sanctions should be. As you know we work out the politics, we do the technical work and the detail alongside that, but specifically to try to get as much pressure as possible."

Belarus Dialogue

The foreign ministers were also expected to discuss the situation in Belarus, where a severe crackdown on dissent is under way, although no new sanctions were expected to be announced.

Diplomats, however, said "a couple of names" might be added to an EU visa blacklist in the upcoming days due to their roles in the trial of rights activist Ales Byalyatski, who last week was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison.

Thus far, the EU has blacklisted some 208 people associated with the government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Some countries, most notably Poland, would like to widen that list.

Brussels is also preparing to strengthen its ties with the Belarusian opposition. Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele is due to present a blueprint titled "A New Vision For Belarus" early next week.

Fuele's spokesman, Peter Stano, said the details were still being worked out but that they would involve "increased support for Belarusian civil society and political opposition [through] regular dialogue...with an exchange of views and assessments"

Stano added that there "won't be normal dialogue" between the EU and Belarus while Minsk continued to persecute "journalists, activists, and human rights defenders."

The foreign ministers were also expected to discuss Serbia's bid for EU candidate status, but officials say Brussels is keeping a close eye on Belgrade's ongoing dialogue with Kosovo.

with additional agency reporting

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/iran_issues_to_dominate_eu_foreign_ministers_meeting/24408082.html

Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.



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