EU set to follow US in upping sanctions on Iran

Iran is facing sanctions well beyond what the United Nations Security Council approved June 9. EU heads are today expected to follow the US in approving new sanctions to target Iran's energy and financial sectors.

EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy Catherine Ashton attends press conference after EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on June 14. The EU is ready to join the US in tougher sanctions against Iran.

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European Union leaders are today expected to adopt tougher sanctions against Iran in a further effort to stall its nuclear program. The EU sanctions follow the Obama administration's expansion of sanctions to target Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, state-controlled banks, companies accused of supporting proliferation activities, and the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Both the EU and US sanctions go further than those adopted by the United Nations Security Council resolution June 9.

That fourth round of UN-approved sanctions was watered down to gain support from China and Russia. The intent is to punish Tehran for planning to enrich uranium to 20 percent by disrupting the money flow to Iran's Revolutionary Guard. It called for an asset freeze on 40 companies and organizations involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities.

According to the Associated Press, the new EU measures "will target Iran's oil industry, shipping and air cargo companies, and dual-use products that could be utilized as part of the nuclear program. More sanctions will also be imposed on trade insurance and financial transactions."

Given the differing interests of EU member states, deciding which new sanctions to impose on Iran was a challenge, particularly since new measures will hurt European companies keen to invest in Iran’s oil and gas sector, the Guardian reported:

Despite objections from Sweden – which argues against sanctions as an effective foreign policy tool – reservations from Spain and Cyprus, and, crucially, reluctance in Germany, whose businesses are heavily engaged in the Iranian energy sector, the EU declaration calls for extra sanctions over and above those agreed in New York last week….

German industry has been strongly involved in the energy sector, and Berlin, wary of imposing the sanctions, argued that it would simply forfeit the business, which would go to China instead.

According to the European Voice, a Brussels-based weekly newspaper, the EU maintains that the option of nuclear talks with Tehran remain open. The paper quotes an EU diplomat as saying, “sanctions are not a punishment but a means to change behaviour.”

Iran, however, has already dismissed the tougher EU sanctions, reported Reuters.

“The carrot and stick policy of the EU is wrong and illogical because such measures would not resolve the issue [Iran’s nuclear row with the West],” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a weekly news conference….

“Sanctions will not stop Iran’s nuclear work. Sanctions will make us more decisive to become self-sufficient,” Mehmanparast said.

The EU sanctions follow moves by the US on Wednesday to widen sanctions against Iran’s banking, energy, and military sectors, reports The Wall Street Journal. The state-owned Post Bank of Iran became the sixteenth Iranian bank to be cut off from the international financial system. More specific sanctions target the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which oversees a majority of Tehran's weapons programs.

Among those sanctioned were the IRGC's commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, and Mohammed Reza Naqdi, the head of the Revolutionary Guard's nationwide paramilitary organization, the Basij Resistance Force. Both entities are alleged by US and European officials and by Iranian dissidents to have played a leading role in suppressing anti regime demonstrators who protested Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election a year ago.

US officials said the measures also are aimed at cutting off the IRGC's funding abilities. Two companies designated Wednesday are subsidiaries of Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, a holding company believed to generate significant funds for the IRGC through its construction, telecommunications and engineering lines.

The Journal says that US allies in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia will also follow with additional sanctions in the coming weeks.

According to McClatchy, Iran’s FARS news agency reported Wednesday that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned of retaliation if these tougher sanctions are enforced.

Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, also threatened to disrupt shipping lanes in the Gulf in response, reports the Telegraph.

[Larijani] said Iranian forces would not allow "bullying powers" to police its sea-borne trade. He said: "We warn the US and some adventurist countries that should they be tempted to inspect consignment of Iranian planes and ships, they should rest assured that we will reciprocate [against] their ships in the Persian Gulf and Oman Sea."

As the latest round of UN Security Council sanctions appeared increasingly inevitable, Iran fought back with devil-may-care rhetoric—as well as frenetic diplomacy aimed at finding more friends, The Christian Science Monitor reported. Iran may finally be at a tipping point.

"Iran is losing Russia, China, and all those countries that matter," an Iranian journalist told the Monitor. "Its dollars can no longer buy political credit [because of] the great isolation it faces…. This has brought great, and visible, fear to Iranian officials.”


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