LUXEMBOURG -- British Foreign Secretary William Hague has dismissed the notion that Britain is trying to force regime change in Iran with the sanctions that the European Union has imposed over Tehran's nuclear activities.
The European Union on October 15 agreed to a fresh round of sanctions against Iran in a bid to dissuade Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, as a number of governments have alleged.
But the British foreign minister stressed to RFE/RL that any question of regime change "is up to the people of Iran," adding, "Our agenda is not about regime change."
"We will respect whatever the people of Iran decide, hopefully in a democratic process in the future," Hague added. "But our objective is to settle the issues about the nuclear program. If we could settle the nuclear issues, there wouldn't be sanctions. There wouldn't be this pressure from the Western world on Iran. This is exclusively about the nuclear program."
This year, Britain and the other permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany -- known collectively as the P5+1 -- have been locked in discussions aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
But the talks have so far seen little progress. Hague was keen to stress his hopes that the day's fresh round of EU sanctions would cajole Tehran back to the negotiating table.
"These are strong sanctions. They do have a big impact," Hague said. "Of course, we cannot guarantee at all, from outside Iran, that this will change the course of the government. But it is better than any other approach. We are trying to avoid conflict. We are trying to come to a peaceful negotiation. So, all the time, with sanctions we are offering credible negotiations at the same time."
Expanding The Bans
The new EU sanctions include a ban on imports of Iranian natural gas into the EU and a halt to the sale of steel and aluminum to Teheran.
EU foreign ministers also agreed on October 15 that ships belonging to EU citizens and companies can no longer be used for transporting or storing Iranian oil and petrochemical products. Supplying naval equipment and technology for shipbuilding to Iran also is forbidden.
Finally, there is a prohibition on financial transactions between European and Iranian banks that could contribute to Iran's nuclear program or the development of ballistic missiles.
Hague said the EU is trying to avoid situations in which the expanded sanctions negatively impact on ordinary Iranians. But he said he not rule out that possibility.
"We try to avoid as far as possible in our sanctions those things that have a direct impact on people," Hague said. "We make a humanitarian exemption in our financial sanctions. We exempt things like food imports from our sanctions. So we are not trying to hurt the people of Iran."
Hague also refused to commit Britain to a stance taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concerning Iran's nuclear activities.
"We are not setting any red line, we haven't set any deadline, but we can say this is becoming a more urgent crisis," Hague said. "As the Iranian nuclear program continues, the number of nuclear centrifuges is increased, the amount of uranium that is enriched is increased, then this crisis becomes bigger, it becomes more urgent."
On September 27, Netanyahu told the United Nations General Assembly that Tehran would be crossing a "red line" if it acquires the ability to produce nuclear weapons.
Written by Rikard Jozwiak based on an interview conducted by Radio Farda's Niusha Boghrati