Britain urges EU to raise Iran pressure
Brussels, December 1, 2011
Britain urged European Union foreign ministers to step up economic pressure on Iran on Thursday over its nuclear programme, but uncertainty remained over whether new EU sanctions would go as far as an oil embargo.
Britain, whose embassy in Tehran was stormed by protesters on Tuesday, was expected to lead the push for tighter sanctions after a report by the UN nuclear agency suggested Iran has worked on designing an atom bomb.
"I hope we will agree today additional measures that will be an intensification of the economic pressure on Iran, peaceful legitimate economic pressure, particularly to increase the isolation of the Iranian financial sector," Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters.
Britain shut Iran's embassy in London and expelled its entire staff on Wednesday, saying the storming of the British mission in Tehran could not have taken place without consent from Iranian authorities.
Hague denied a link between the embassy storming and Thursday's meeting in Brussels, when the ministers will map out the EU's response to the report last month from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"I stress that the measures I hope we will agree today are related to the Iranian nuclear programme. These are not measures in reaction to what has happened to our embassy," he told BBC radio.
Some of the EU's new steps have been agreed. It is set to add about 180 names to a list of people and entities targeted by pan-European sanctions.
But some EU capitals think it is too early to adopt an oil embargo or ban European companies from doing business with Iran's central bank, as they are concerned about the economic consequences.
An embargo might boost global crude oil prices during hard economic times. And debt-strapped Greece has been relying on Iranian oil, which comes with an attractive financing offer.
Diplomats say the foreign ministers might not be able to reach an agreement on any oil embargo yet, but discussions could be finalised next week, when EU heads of state meet for a summit on December 8 and 9.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he was prepared to agree to a crude oil embargo, but questioned the effectiveness of such a measure.
"I am prepared to go along with that," he told reporters. "I don't think it will necessarily have that much of an effect because of the nature of the global oil market."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said there were still connections between Iran and Europe that needed to be cut off in order to squeeze the nuclear programme financially.
"We cannot accept an option of nuclear armament of Iran," he said. However, he added that sanctions in the financial sector would have to take account of "the population of Iran that is not responsible for the politics there". – Reuters