EU adopts new sanctions against Iran and Syria
Sanctions against Syria, over its crackdown against protesters, set to be wide-ranging; actions against Iran could include controversial oil embargo; U.S. says would support sanctions on Iran central bank.
European Union foreign ministers on Thursday adopted new sanctions against Iran in response to the country's nuclear program and against Syria to increase pressure on its regime to end a crackdown on protesters.
In the run-up to the ministers' meeting in Brussels, diplomats had said that the Iran restrictive measures would pave the way for another 37 people and 143 entities to be hit with travel bans and asset freezes.
Since then, a storming of the British embassy in Tehran has led several ministers to press for more aggressive action, including a controversial oil embargo.
The Syria sanctions were expected to be wide-ranging, diplomats said, affecting everything from the sale of computer software and insurance to Syria's banking and energy sectors. Travel bans and asset freezes would also be applied to 12 people and 11 entities.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday that it supports increasing pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, including sanctions on its central bank.
"The Obama administration strongly supports increasing the pressure on Iran, and that includes properly designed and targeted sanctions against the central bank of Iran, appropriately timed as part of a part of a carefully phased and sustainable policy towards bringing about Iranian compliance with its obligations," U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said in testimony before a congressional panel.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said earlier Thursday that the "intensification of economic sanctions on Iran, particularly to increase the isolation of the Iranian financial sector" should be seen in light of efforts to halt Tehran's nuclear program, and not simply as a "reaction to what has happened to our embassy."
Britain shut Iran's embassy in London and expelled its entire staff on Wednesday, saying the storming of the British mission in Tehran on Tuesday could not have taken place without consent from Iranian authorities.
"Our bigger, long-term concern is the Iranian nuclear program, the danger that poses to the peace of the Middle East and the wider world ... and it is for that reason that we will agree, I hope, today to intensify European Union sanctions on Iran," Hague said.
EU foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels to map out Europe's response to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency in recent weeks that suggested Iran has worked on designing an atom bomb.
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has recalled the country's ambassador to Iran, the Foreign Ministry in Berlin announced Wednesday
France recalled its ambassador to Tehran for "consultations" on Wednesday as well. Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in a statement that the ambassador, Bruno Foucher, had been recalled over Iran's "flagrant and unacceptable" violation of the Vienna Convention.
Italy's foreign minister said Wednesday that his country is considering closing its embassy in Tehran.
The attacks followed the rapid approval by Iran's Guardian Council of a parliamentary bill compelling the government to expel the British ambassador in retaliation for the sanctions, and warnings from a lawmaker that angry Iranians could storm the British embassy as they did to the U.S. mission in 1979.
The top U.S. military officer told Reuters on Wednesday he did not know whether Israel would alert the United States ahead of time if it decided to take military action against Iran.
General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also acknowledged differences in perspective between the United States and Israel over the best way to handle Iran and its nuclear program.