‘EU may target Iran with new sanctions in weeks’

EU sanctions would be a significant part of Western efforts to ratchet up pressure on Tehran after the IAEA report.

Last Updated: Nov 10, 2011, 21:51 PM IST

Brussels: European Union governments could approve a new package of sanctions against Iran in the coming weeks, EU diplomats said on Thursday, over a U.N. report that Tehran has worked to design atom bombs.

Preliminary discussions among EU capitals on new measures have started and diplomats said plans may be formalized by a December 1 meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

"Experts are discussing a number of options on the table but it is difficult to foresee the outcome of the debate," one EU diplomat said, adding it was not clear when consensus might be found. Another EU diplomat said he expected a formal decision to be reached on December 1.

EU sanctions would be a significant part of Western efforts to ratchet up pressure on Tehran after the UN watchdog`s report this week that laid bare a trove of intelligence suggesting Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

Western governments prefer a more united approach toward Tehran through sanctions adopted by the United Nations, but such moves look unlikely in the face of opposition from Russia and China at the UN Security Council.

Tehran maintains its nuclear programme has peaceful purposes and is aimed at meeting its growing energy needs. It said on Wednesday it remains ready to engage in negotiations with world powers about the programme.

Western diplomats say sanctions that would exert significant pressure on Tehran to change its policy would have to target the Iranian energy sector.

But these seem unlikely, in part, because of concerns over the impact of such measures on the global economy, already shaken by the debt crisis in Europe.

In Europe, some governments are also concerned about any economic hardship sanctions could bring to the Iranian people. Some are reluctant to target Iranian officials with measures that could close the lines of communication in future talks.

Diplomats say discussions on the extent of the EU`s unilateral measures are also complicated by concern in some capitals that sanctions on the oil sector could inflict damage to their own economic interests. Some states, EU diplomats say, have questioned the wisdom of agreeing to new sanctions at a time when they have limited impact on talks with Tehran.

From the EU, Germany, Britain and France belong to a group of world powers negotiating with Iran. The last round of talks petered out at the start of this year.

Iran already faces a wide range of UN sanctions, as well as measures imposed unilaterally by the United States and the EU.

Bureau Report