June 24, 2008

New Sanctions Put on Iran, but Not Its Oil


BRUSSELS, Belgium EU nations approved new sanctions Monday against Iran, imposing additional financial and travel restrictions on a list of Iranian companies and experts including the country's largest bank.

But don't expect the EU, China, Russia or the U.S. to agree anytime soon to tougher sanctions that would ban oil and gas exports from Tehran in response to its nuclear program plans.

European Union officials stressed the importance of the 27- nation bloc's "carrot and stick" approach, which Europeans feel Western powers should continue as they try to sway Iran from plans to build nuclear weapons.

They acknowledged that any agreement on harsher energy sanctions, which could further push up energy prices, would be hard to reach, both within the bloc and with powers like China or Russia.

"Given the EU's thirst for oil and gas, that would be sort of cutting of your nose to spite your face. Also given the surge in Russia, China and India [of energy demand] I think this would be a very tricky subject," said Shada Islam, an analyst at the European Policy Center, a Brussels-based think tank.

She said there was little appetite for energy sanctions, especially from Germany and France, both of which have energy deals with Iran.

However, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the EU is concerned about Iran's nuclear program and told Israeli lawmakers that a nuclear-armed Iran is "unacceptable." He said Monday's approval of new sanctions was meant to send another reminder to Tehran that it should pursue negotiations.

Western nations fear Iran's uranium enrichment program could be used to make a nuclear bomb. Iran has vowed to push ahead with the enrichment work, saying it's intended to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that would generate electricity.

The sanctions, almost a year in the making by EU experts, were considered unlikely to deter Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from pursuing his country's uranium enrichment plan, a key demand made by Washington, EU capitals, Moscow and Beijing.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, held unsuccessful talks with officials in Tehran last week the latest diplomatic overture aimed at persuading Iran to accept an offer of economic incentives in return for an end to its uranium enrichment program. Solana presented the package on behalf of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.

On Monday, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, responded to the incentive package, saying that suspending uranium enrichment would be "illogical."

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