By Slobodan Lekic Associated Press
BRUSSELS — The European Union and Canada today separately adopted new sanctions against Iran, targeting the country’s foreign trade, banking and energy sectors.
The moves are the latest in a series of measures taken by the international community in an effort to halt Iran’s nuclear program. The EU’s measures, which leaders agreed to in principle in June, also blacklist Iran’s shipping and air cargo companies.
In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast denounced the EU decision.
“Moving toward confrontational measures and supporting unilateral actions and damaging the atmosphere are not considered by us to be a good use of the opportunity,” Mehmanparast said, according to the state television network’s website. Iran denies that it is working on a nuclear weapon, saying its program is intended solely for peaceful purposes such as energy-generation.
EU foreign ministers in Brussels called the restrictions a “comprehensive and robust package” focused on trade, financial services, energy, and transport, with visa bans and asset freezes for Iranian banks, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.
The ministers reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to work for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue, and backed a call to Tehran to resume meaningful negotiations. The EU’s new measures will come into force in the next few weeks, after they are published in the bloc’s official gazette, officials said.
“I think today we sent a powerful message to Iran, and that message is that their nuclear program is a cause of serious and growing concern to us,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.
“But our objectives remains to persuade Iranian leaders that their interests are served by a return to the table,” Ashton said. “Sanctions are not an end in themselves, our objective is, was, and will be to bring Iran to the table to resolve this issue.”
Tehran has sought to deflect pressure and further sanctions by displaying a willingness to talk about nuclear issues — a line reinforced today by Tehran’s senior envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and welcomed by Ashton.
“Iran is ready to go back to the negotiating table” quickly to discuss exchanging some of its enriched uranium for fuel rods for Tehran’s nuclear reactor, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh told reporters in Vienna.
He spoke after presenting revised proposals on a possible swap to IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, who was expected to relay them to the U.S., France and Russia — the three nations engaged with Iran in such an exchange.
No details of the latest offer were available. But under a similar deal in May with Brazil and Turkey, Iran agreed to ship 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, where it would be stored. In exchange, Iran would get fuel rods made from 20 percent enriched uranium. That level of enrichment is high enough for use in research reactors but too low for nuclear weapons.
Among concerns by opponents of the deal is that Iran has continued to churn out low-enriched material and plans to continue running a pilot program of enriching to higher levels, near 20 percent — a level from which it would be easier to move on to creating weapons-grade uranium.
The U.S. and its allies argue that the sanctions are in response to Iran’s refusal to freeze all enrichment activities and not in response to Tehran’s fuel swap offer.
EU exports to Iran — mainly machinery, transport equipment and chemicals — amounted to euro14.1 billion ($18.2 billion) in 2008. Imports from Iran, the EU’s sixth largest energy provider, amounted to euro11.3 billion, with energy being 90 percent of the total.
The new European restrictions come on top of a fourth round of sanctions imposed last month by the U.N. Security Council to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.
The new EU restrictions are similar to measures adopted by the Obama administration, which has imposed penalties against additional individuals and institutions it says are helping Iran develop its nuclear and missile programs.
In Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the country’s new measures will include a ban on any new Canadian investment in Iran’s oil and gas sector, and restrictions on exporting goods that could be used in nuclear programs.
Iranian banks will also will be barred from opening branches in Canada and Canadian banks will not be able to operate in Iran.
“These sanctions are in no way intended to punish the Iranian people,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “These targeted measures are designed to hamper attempts by Iran to develop nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs” and to persuade the country to engage in negotiations.
Also today, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Tehran should stop its “irresponsible rhetoric” and take steps to end disagreements on its nuclear program. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday accused Moscow of turning against Tehran and joining the U.S. in spreading lies about its nuclear program, in the latest sign that Iran is drifting apart from a one-time key backer.