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EU imposes sanctions on Iranian blacklist
The EU delayed a decision over an Iranian oil embargo sought by France and Britain on Thurs. but agreed to sanctions on 180 Iranian entities. Meanwhile, China warned against actions that could exacerbate the diplomatic row between London and Tehran.
REUTERS - EU nations agreed on Thursday to examine sanctions on Iran’s energy sector over its nuclear programme which could include an oil embargo championed by France and Britain.
China, the biggest buyer of Iranian crude, also stepped in on Thursday to warn against “emotionally charged actions” that might aggravate the row between London and Tehran over the storming of Britain’s embassy in the Iranian capital.
In Iran, diplomats said protesters had devastated parts of the embassy complex in Tehran. A commander in an Iranian militia which joined Tuesday’s ransacking said he was tired of decades of British “plotting” against Iran.
European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels said Iran’s energy, financial and transport sectors might be targeted in response to a report from the U.N. nuclear watchdog which suggested Iran has worked on designing an atom bomb.
They added 180 Iranian people and entities to a blacklist that imposes asset freezes and travel bans on those involved in the nuclear work which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes.
However, they appeared to postpone decisions on a ban on oil imports.
“The Council (of ministers) agreed to broaden existing sanctions by examining, in close coordination with international partners, additional measures including measures aimed at severely affecting the Iranian financial system, in the transport sector, in the energy sector,” they said.
Ministers said a decision would be taken no later than their next meeting in January. EU member states take 450,000 barrels per day of Iranian oil, about 18 percent of the Islamic Republic’s exports, much of which go to China and India.
But European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said all 27 EU countries would need to back any embargo. “We need a common position of all European Union member states,” he told Reuters on a visit to Moscow.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed the embargo and won backing from Britain, but resistance persists. An import ban might boost global oil prices during hard economic times while debt-strapped Greece has been relying on Iranian oil, which comes with an attractive financing offer.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the EU could aim to offset any crude oil shortfall if a ban were imposed.
“Greece has voiced some concerns. We have to take them into account and work with the different partners so that the interruption of deliveries from Iran could be compensated by a rise in production in other countries,” he told reporters.
Britain shut down Iran’s embassy in London and expelled all its staff on Wednesday after pulling out its own diplomats. It said the storming could not have taken place without the consent of Iranian Islamic authorities.
However, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the push for tougher economic action against Iran had nothing to do with the embassy incident.
“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 before the Brussels meeting.
Britain’s uneasy relations with Iran date from long before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi of the Basij militia, which participated along with hardline students in the embassy incident, said Iranians "were tired of decades of London’s plots against Tehran", the official IRNA news agency reported.
EU diplomats who visited the embassy in central Tehran told Reuters of severe damage. "I saw two rooms where you couldn’t see what they were. There was just ashes ... It was devastating to see," one said.
“You could tell the action was coordinated,” he added. A building that had not been used for years was untouched while the most important offices were gutted.
Stay rational, calm and restrained
With the diplomatic temperature rising, Beijing issued an appeal for cool heads. "China hopes that the relevant parties can remain rational, calm and restrained, to avoid emotionally charged actions that could intensify the dispute," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing.
“Countries should ... focus on the long term and the big picture. When encountering issues and conflicts, they should resolve problems through dialogue and consultations.”
Russia said the increasing tension and Western pressure were undermining the chances Iran will cooperate with efforts to ensure it is not seeking nuclear weapons.
“We speak out categorically against cranking up a spiral of tension and confrontation on issues linked with Iran. We believe that this ... is fraught with severe consequences,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told a news briefing.
Russia and China approved four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, after working together to blunt tougher Western proposals.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog, citing intelligence reports, said last month that Iran appeared to have conducted research and experiments relevant to developing an atom bomb and may still be pursuing work to that end.
The nuclear programme has raised the question of whether Israel might take military action against arch-foe Iran.
In Jerusalem, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said an Israeli attack was not imminent but all options remained open to stop what Israel sees as an Iranian bid to develop nuclear weapons.
“We have no intention, at the moment, of taking action, but the State of Israel is far from being paralysed by fear," Barak told Israel Radio. "It must act calmly and quietly—we don’t need big wars.”