Britain's foreign secretary said Sunday that European nations will intensify pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, but insisted the West wasn't pressing for military action.
William Hague told Sky News television that he believed the European Union would agree tough new sanctions against Tehran's oil sector later this month, and would continue to look for peaceful methods of persuading Iran to ditch its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
Iran insists its nuclear program is intended solely for peaceful purposes, but the West and others accuse it of attempting to build a bomb. Britain's defense secretary Philip Hammond said earlier this month that Tehran was working "flat out" on its weapons program.
"We have never ruled anything out. We have not ruled out any option, or supporting any option. We believe all options should be on the table, that is part of the pressure on Iran, but we are clearly not calling for or advocating military action," Hague said.
"We are advocating meaningful negotiations, if Iran will enter into them, and the increasing pressure of sanctions to try to get some flexibility from Iran," he said.
European officials have worked for several months on banning the purchase of Iranian oil, and are expected to agree to the measures at a meeting of foreign ministers on Jan. 23.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the new sanctions would help to choke off funding to Iran's nuclear program.
"Even just the option of nuclear armament by Iran would have far-reaching negative consequences far beyond the Gulf region, so it is not acceptable," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was quoted as saying in a weekend interview with the Rheinische Post newspaper.
"So, with new sanctions that we want to approve this month, we are now targeting the heart of the Iranian nuclear program: its oil and, with that, its sources of financing," he added. "But the door to dialogue with Iran remains open at the same time."
Westerwelle also dismissed discussion of possible military action if Iran continue to defy international demands to halt its weapons work. "We should not further charge an already tense situation in a turbulent region," he was quoted as saying.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has said new European sanctions could also target its Central Bank.
"I am confident we will adopt very significant additional measures .... covering the oil sector and possibly other sectors as well," Hague said.
Britain has already downgraded ties with Iran following a major attack on its embassy in Tehran in November, which it insists was sanctioned by the country's ruling elite. In response, Britain pulled all of its diplomats out of Iran and expelled Iranian diplomats from U.K. soil.
Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report