European Union foreign ministers have beefed up sanctions against Iran in the aftermath of this week's storming of the British Embassy in Tehran.
The ministers imposed asset freezes and travel bans on180 individuals and entities in response to a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that for the first time directly tied Iran's nuclear program to weapons production
Some 35 individuals and 215 entities associated with Iran's nuclear program have already been subjected to similar measures and another 61 individuals are on an EU blacklist for human rights abuses.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the EU would look into possible future sanctions in other field.
"We have adopted important sanctions in relation to nuclear activities against 180 Iranian individuals and entities. We have also agreed to continue to work on a proposal by the French president that envisages tougher and unprecedented sanctions on the financial sector and the petroleum sector," Juppe said.
Conclusions agreed by all 27 ministers state that the EU will examine "measures aimed at severely affecting the Iranian financial system, in the transport sector, in the energy sector, measures against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as in other areas." It is believed that additional measures can be agreed in January.
Possible Oil Embargo
Juppe also indicated that the EU will continue to look into the issue of imposing an oil embargo but that nothing was decided yet. Greece, which is a considerable importer of Iranian oil, is still reluctant to support such a move but Juppe said imports from Libya could off-set an Iranian embargo in the future.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said all options would be carefully scrutinized before a further decision could be made.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that he was grateful for the support that other EU member states had shown London in recent days and underlined that he is seeking sanctions that hit Tehran's financial strength.
After London cut off all ties with Iran's financial sector last week, including the country's Central Bank, dozens of hard-line Iranian students stormed the British Embassy in Tehran, removing the mission's flag and ransacking offices inside. Six members of the staff were also held hostage but were later released.
In response, Britain on November 30 ordered the immediate closure of Iran's embassy in London and closed its own embassy in Tehran.
Meanwhile in Washington, top U.S. State and Treasury Department officials told a Senate hearing that the Obama administration is “keenly focused” on targeting Iran’s powerful Central Bank, which the country uses in financing its nuclear program.
David Cohen, U.S. under-secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said, "It is more important than ever that we work together with the international community to increase the financial pressure on Iran, including through an effective, well-designed, and well-targeted strategy to further isolate the CBI, the Central Bank of Iran."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle
Cohen, however, also voiced the administration’s opposition to legislation currently being considered that would threaten U.S. allies with blockage from the country’s financial system if they continue to deal with Iran’s central bank.
He also touted the effectiveness of existing sanctions on Iran, saying the Islamic Republic’s economy is “struggling more than at any time since the 1979 revolution."
Back in Brussels, the EU said ministers also placed sanctions on more Syrians to pressure Damascus over its crackdown on protests.
The foreign ministers also discussed the situation in Belarus, where a severe crackdown on dissent is under way, although no new sanctions were announced.
Diplomats, however say that "a couple of names" might be added to an EU visa blacklist in the upcoming days due to their roles in the trial of rights activist Ales Byalyatski, who last week was sentenced to 4 and 1/2 years in prison.
Thus far, the EU has blacklisted some 208 people associated with the government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Some countries, most notably Poland, would like to widen that list.
Brussels is also preparing to strengthen its ties with the Belarusian opposition. Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele is due to present a blueprint titled "A New Vision For Belarus" early next week.
The foreign ministers also discussed Serbia's bid for EU candidate status, and officials say Brussels is keeping a close eye on Belgrade's ongoing dialogue with Kosovo.
Germany has so far been reluctant to grant Serbia preliminary status, especially after two German soldiers were injured in clashed with ethnic Serbs in Northern Kosovo recently.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the final decision would be made next week, but sounded a skeptical note.
"I am one of those politicians in Europe who always said that all the states of the Balkans have a clear European perspective. But I have to say this was everything else but productive what we saw in the last days and unfortunately it was not for the first time," Westerwelle said.