Luxembourg: EU foreign ministers on Monday proposed new sanctions going further than UN restrictions for EU leaders to endorse at a summit this week, in a bid to pressure Iran over its nuclear programme.
The measures, which also cover the oil and gas industry, with transport and banking or insurance curbs, will now go forward to an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday for final approval.
The foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, said the EU would seek to prohibit new investment as well as the transfers of technologies, equipment and services.
Iran has the world`s second-largest reserves of natural gas and is OPEC`s second largest oil exporter. Global energy majors have come under increased international pressure over their activities in the country.
Last Wednesday, the UN Security Council slapped its fourth set of sanctions on Iran, authorising high-seas inspections of vessels believed to be ferrying banned items to Iran and adding 40 entities to a list of people and groups subject to travel restrictions and financial sanctions.
Tehran says its nuclear programme is purely for civilian purposes, but Israel and Western powers fear it may be trying to develop nuclear weapons that would tip the balance of power in the Middle East.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at the Security Council last week, calling it a "tool of dictatorship" and warning that UN sanctions "will have no effect”.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, attending his first meeting with his European counterparts, had earlier urged the EU to give a "strong lead" on the issues by "taking accompanying and additional measures”.
Backers overcame reticence from the likes of Sweden`s Carl Bildt and a determination from Germany -- which had doubts about the gas sanctions -- to ensure ordinary Iranians were not unduly affected.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said that she had written to Iran`s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, inviting him to resume negotiations on behalf of the five UN Security Council permanent members -- the United States Russia, China, Britain, France -- plus Germany.
"It seems to me more appropriate than ever that we should lose no time in doing this," said Ashton in a letter, adding that she was ready to meet "as soon as possible”.
Tehran has long said that it accepts in principle such a meeting between Jalili and Ashton.