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EU passes unprecedentedly tough Iran sanctions

The EU passed sanctions today that surpass the UN's Iran sanctions and all previous European measures. As Tehran's largest trading partner, the EU is likely to make a serious dent economically.

By Staff writer / July 26, 2010

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives for a meeting in Tehran July 15. EU foreign ministers approved tighter sanctions Monday despite dire warnings in recent days by Tehran, including comments by President Ahmadinejad such as, 'Are you helpless, do you fear one Iranian atomic bomb?'

Raheb Homavandi/Reuters



The European Union instituted sweeping and legally binding sanctions against Iran Monday amid ongoing concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions and brinkmanship – and continued reprocessing of nuclear fuel.

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European foreign ministers in Brussels finalized measures that will take effect tomorrow, targeting a wide range of banks, individuals, shipping, insurance, and oil refining technology – despite financial losses to European firms that have greater investment and dealings with Iran than their US counterparts.

These Iran sanctions go farther than a fourth round of United Nations sanctions approved June 9 and are seen as the most comprehensive the EU has ever undertaken against a single state.

IN PICTURES: Nuclear Weapons

Sanctions target Iran's crucial energy sector

The precise sanctions list will be published tomorrow. But Iran’s energy sector is known to be a main target of the sanctions. Oil accounts for roughly 80 percent of total exports and more than half of the government's revenues.

Despite being the No. 2 OPEC exporter of crude oil, however, Iran must import some 40 percent of its refined gasoline – making it vulnerable to European limits on such imports. Tehran announced on Sunday a $46 billion program to increase its oil refining capacity, adding seven new refineries and improving its nine existing ones.

The EU sanctions are also known to include restrictions on some 40 senior Iranian officials, bank freezes, bans on sale or transfer of technology (especially of natural gas liquefaction), and prior approval of cash transfers higher than $52,000, to outline a few.

After the meeting EU foreign policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton said the measures "sent a powerful message" that Iran's "nuclear program is a cause of serious and growing concern to us ... because of the failure to comply with the UN Security Council resolution and the IAEA board resolutions" and because of a lack of interest in negotiations.

Why Europe is pressing hard now

In the past, Europe has been resistant to pressing Iran, which counts the EU as its top trade partner.

But EU foreign ministers went ahead with the sanctions Monday despite dire warnings in recent days by Tehran, including comments by Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad such as, “Are you helpless, do you fear one Iranian atomic bomb?"

“The possibility of [nuclear] proliferation in close proximity to Europe means that European elites will even do things that cut against their commercial interests,” said Nick Whitney of the European Council of Foreign Relations in London.

But despite Iran's brash talk and refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, Ashton left room for reconciliation.