A United Nations resolution on new sanctions against Iran may not be ready until June and if a vote on it fails, European states could take unilateral measures instead, French and Finnish ministers said on Sunday.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said France remained determined to get UN backing for sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear program, but indicated that the support of Russia and China among the five permanent Security Council members was some way off.
"We are ... talking and talking, trying to get an agreement by negotiation and at the same time working on sanctions. I believe that yes, before June it will be possible, but I'm not so sure," Kouchner told reporters during a foreign ministers' retreat in northern Finland.
"Before June I hope, but who am I to hope or decide," he said, pointing out that France had originally hoped to get a UN sanctions package prepared in February, when it was chairing the Security Council.
If the United States, Britain, France and Germany - the four leading the drive for sanctions that are expected to target Iranian banks and senior members of the Revolutionary Guard - fail to secure UN backing, the EU looks likely to join the United States in imposing unilateral sanctions.
Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who is hosting a weekend gathering of foreign ministers from the EU and Turkey in Lapland, said on Saturday there was "consensus enough" in the EU for unilateral sanctions and said it would be discussed at the next EU foreign ministers' meeting on March 22.
On Sunday he reiterated that point, although clarified it by saying that consensus was only "emerging". That clarification came after a morning of discussions with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who opposes sanctions on Iran.
"Failing [UN sanctions], I think there is an emerging consensus inside the European Union that we will take some unilateral measures from the EU side," Stubb said. "What those exact measures are have not been discussed in detail."
The United States and its allies believe another round of sanctions is needed to prevent Iran making further progress on its nuclear program, which Iran says is for peaceful energy and medical purposes but the West says is for weapons.
Kouchner said the measures France wanted included sanctions on Iran's banks and insurance companies, and said it should also involve revoking travel permits for specific people. But he said it would not target the Iranian people or the energy sector.
"We are not talking about blocking the exportation [of oil products] from the Gulf of Hormuz, even if some strategic people are thinking about it," he said. "It will be simple, clear and economic."
Davutoglu, who has visited Iran several times to try to broker a uranium exchange deal that might prevent the need for sanctions, said he had had an open exchange with his colleagues, including EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, on the Iran nuclear issue and remained convinced sanctions were wrong.
"We shared our views and we are trying to develop a common approach," he said when asked if he had managed to convince his EU counterparts that sanctions on Iran were the wrong track.
"I believe there is room for diplomacy and the European Union can play a significant role. If there is good strategic cooperation between Turkey and the EU, that will help not only the Iran nuclear issue but all other regional issues in the Middle East and the Balkans," he said.
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