Iran nuclear program: US, EU step up sanctions pressure

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking in Iraq, said additional sanctions could be imposed for Iran nuclear program if Iran does not fulfill October agreements.

By , Correspondent

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    Defense Secretary Robert Gates poses for a photo with US soldiers at an airbase near Kirkuk, Iraq, on Friday.
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A top US official warned Friday of "significant" new sanctions on Iran, joining others in ratcheting up pressure on Tehran to fulfill an October agreement to curb its nuclear program.

The European Union is preparing a draft of a statement supporting stronger global action to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. That follows the UN's expression of "grave concern" Thursday for Iran's apparent violations of a UN ban on arms exports.

In a speech to soldiers Friday in Kirkuk, Iraq, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Iran would be sanctioned if it didn't honor its recent agreements, according to The New York Times.

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“I think you’re going to see some significant additional sanctions imposed by the international community, assuming that the Iranians don’t change course and agree to do the things that they signed up to do at the beginning of October,” Mr. Gates said during a question-and-answer session with American troops in Kirkuk, an oil-rich region north of Baghdad.

The US, Britain, and France are pushing for tougher measures to halt Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Agence France-Presse said that the 27 European Union nations backed that approach, and had drafted a joint statement that will be released soon.

"Iran's persistent failure to meet its international obligations and Iran's apparent lack of interest in pursuing negotiations require a clear response, including through appropriate measures," the draft document said.
"Consistent with the dual-track approach, the European Union would support action by the UNSC (Security Council) if Iran continues not to cooperate with the international community over its nuclear program."

A United Nations sanctions committee on Thursday expressed concern that Iran was exporting weapons, citing reports of two illegal shipments by a state-backed Iranian shipping line seized in the last three months. The Washington Post said the US and Israel believed the seized weapons were bound for Syria.

"Iran has now been caught breaking the rules," said Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "Such violations are unacceptable."
Rice added: "The illicit smuggling of weapons from Iran to Syria is not just a sanctions violation. It is also an important factor in the destabilization of an already fragile Middle East."

On Thursday, the UK's Daily Telegraph reported that the UN is investigating claims that Iran was importing key European-made nuclear equipment from a company in Taiwan.

Recent intelligence reports have revealed that officials from Iran's Ministry of Defence have held a series of meeting with companies based in Taiwan to buy hundreds of pressure transducers, which can be used to produce weapons-grade uranium.
Iran has been desperately trying to acquire the equipment for more than a year, but has been frustrated by the refusal of European and American companies to sell it material that might be used for its nuclear program.

Iran continues to insist that it has a right to a nuclear energy program, and denies it plans to build weapons. On Wednesday, one Iranian politician warned that Tehran could "limit" cooperation with the UN's nuclear watchdog agency if the UN Security Council issued any new resolution against Iran, the Tehran Times reported.

See also:

Roses for Europe: Israel eases Gaza blockade to allow flower exports (The Christian Science Monitor)

Filipino abductors free 10 more hostages, hold 47 (The Associated Press)

Senior al-Qaeda leader killed in US Predator drone strike in Pakistan (Telegraph UK)

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