BRUSSELS: European leaders on Thursday imposed new sanctions on Iran that went even further than UN punitive measures in a bid to pile pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program, diplomatic sources said.
The new European Union sanctions include a ban on new investment, technical assistance and technology transfers to Iran’s key gas and oil industry, particularly as regards refining and liquefied natural gas, according to the text.
Iran has the world’s second-largest reserves of natural gas and is OPEC’s second largest oil exporter. Global energy majors have come under increased international pressure over their activities in the country.
The new EU measures also target the Islamic Republic’s transportation, banking and insurance sectors and slaps new visa bans and asset freezes on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The move came the day after the United States added Iranian individuals and firms to a blacklist and one week after the UN Security Council slapped its fourth set of sanctions on Iran over its refusal to halt nuclear activities.
In an agreed text the EU leaders expressed their "deepening concerns about Iran’s nuclear program."
Tehran says the program is purely for civilian purposes, but Israel and Western powers fear it may be trying to develop nuclear weapons that would tip the balance of power in the Middle East.
Russia, which was persuaded to support the UN measures, strongly criticised the unilateral US and EU decisions to go further.
"We are extremely disappointed that neither the United States nor the European Union heed our calls to refrain from such moves," Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.
"Unilateral sanction measures exceeding the parameters agreed and reflected in the UN Security Council resolution are not only harmful but undermine the very basis of our joint work with the partners," Ryabkov added.
His comments struck a strong note of discord after what has in the past months been relatively harmonious efforts between Russia and Western powers to resolve the nuclear crisis.
British Prime Minister David Cameron had entered his first EU summit underlining the need for "a strong package of sanctions against Iran."
The new EU sanctions had been proposed at a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday, when backers overcame reticence from Sweden and a determination from Germany — which had doubts about the gas sanctions — to ensure ordinary Iranians were not unduly affected.
However the EU leaders’ joint statement stresses their desire to resolve the dispute through diplomacy and urges Iran to resume negotiations.
"The European Council calls on Iran to demonstrate willingness to build the confidence of the international community and to respond to the invitation for resumption of negotiations," the summit statement said.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has written to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, inviting him to resume negotiations on behalf of the five UN Security Council permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany.
Tehran has long said that it accepts in principle such a meeting between Jalili and Ashton.
On June 9, the UN Security Council slapped a fourth round of sanctions on Iran, this time tightening the noose on military and financial transactions.
New US sanctions announced on Wednesday also target insurance companies, oil firms and shipping lines linked to Iran’s atomic or missile programs as well as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Iran’s Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi.
Iran has repeatedly ignored international demands to halt its uranium enrichment activities.