EU significantly extends sanctions against Iran

Reuters News
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Posted: May 23, 2011 11:08 AM
EU significantly extends sanctions against Iran

By David Brunnstrom and Justyna Pawlak

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union significantly extended its sanctions against Iran Monday, reflecting mounting frustration over a lack of progress in nuclear talks with Tehran.

EU foreign ministers agreed at a meeting in Brussels to add more than 100 new entities to a list of companies and people affected by EU sanctions, designed to put economic pressure on Tehran to abandon its atomic program, EU diplomats said.

The measures, asset freezes and visa bans, add to a range of financial and trade sanctions the EU's 27 governments have already imposed on Tehran.

"The Council adopted legislation today to strengthen the restrictive measures imposed on Iran owing to concerns about its nuclear program," the ministers said in a statement.

World powers suspect Iran is trying to develop atomic weapons under the cover of its declared civilian nuclear energy program, but Tehran says it needs nuclear power to meet growing domestic demand for electricity.

Talks with Iran on suspending the nuclear program in return for trade and technology have ground to a halt, with the last meeting in Istanbul in January failing to yield results.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, expressed concern at the lack of progress earlier this month, saying messages she was receiving from Tehran about future meetings were disappointing.

"I do urge Iran to think again and to consider coming back to the table ... But from the letters that I've received, I don't see that at the present time," Ashton said at the time.

RANGE OF TARGETS

EU diplomats said Monday's sanctions list included German-based EIH bank, which specializes in business in Iran, as well as shipping and engineering companies and organizations owned and controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Details of who is affected will be published Tuesday.

The United States has already banned business with EIH (Europaeisch-Iranische Handelsbank, or European-Iranian Trade Bank), because of concerns that it finances companies involved in Iran's nuclear program.

Commenting on the EU decision, Washington said world powers would continue to target Iran with sanctions as long as Tehran continued its enrichment program.

"So long as Iran refuses to fulfil its international obligations, the international community will respond by continuing to hold Iran accountable ... and aggressively counter Iranian proliferation activities," the White House said in a statement.

In Tehran, Iran was to consider sanctions of its own against Western powers, attempting to turn the tables after years of punitive measures, with its parliament set to debate censuring 26 U.S. officials.

(Editing by Rex Merrifield)