BRUSSELS -- The European Union has welcomed a new mechanism to trade with Iran while bypassing U.S. sanctions, but criticized Tehran over its "destabilizing" ballistic missile program, its "hostile activities" on the territories of several EU member states, and its meddling in countries in the Middle East.
In a joint statement unanimously adopted by the bloc's ambassadors on February 4 following more than a week of wrangling in Brussels, the EU restated its commitment to saving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
The statement hailed the launch last week by France, Britain, and Germany of a financial mechanism to allow firms to trade with Iran without falling foul of U.S. sanctions as key to supporting "legitimate trade" with Iran.
It said the system aimed to provide "a positive impact on trade and economic relations with Iran, but most importantly on the lives of Iranian people."
But the statement said the European Council was "gravely concerned" by Iran's efforts to "increase the range and precision of its missiles, together with increasing the number of tests and operational launches."
It called on Tehran to refrain from such activities, saying they "deepen mistrust and contribute to regional instability."
The bloc also urged Iran to immediately end its "hostile" activities in EU member states, and said that the bloc would "continue to demonstrate unity and solidarity in this area."
Earlier this month, the EU approved sanctions on Iran’s intelligence services and two Iranian nationals, accusing them of attempting -- or carrying out -- attacks against Iranian government opponents on Danish, Dutch, and French soil.
Tehran denied the claim, saying the accusations were aimed at damaging relations between Iran and the EU.
The EU also expressed concern at the "growing tensions in the region and Iran's role in this context, including the provision of military, financial and political support to non-state actors in countries such as Syria and Lebanon."
The statement urged Tehran, a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to use its leverage to get Damascus behind UN-led efforts to end the civil war.
On Yemen, where a Saudi-led military coalition battling Iran-backed Shi’ite Huthi rebels to restore the internationally recognized government there, the EU called upon Tehran and all other parties in the region to “constructively work towards a lasting political solution to the conflict under UN leadership.”
The statement also urged Iran to fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and called on the country to put an end to the death penalty and ensure equal rights for women and girls and members of ethnic and religious minorities.