EU set sharply to expand Iran sanctions: diplomats

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BRUSSELS: The European Union is expected to expand its sanctions against Iran significantly on Monday, reflecting growing frustration among Western powers with a lack of progress in nuclear talks with Tehran, EU diplomats said.

The 27 member governments are set to add about 100 companies to the bloc’s embargo list — including German-based bank EIH, which specializes in business in Iran — at a meeting in Brussels.

"There is a list of about 100 companies to be added to the EU sanctions on Monday," one EU diplomat told Reuters on Thursday.

"Among those companies is the European Iranian … Bank," said another diplomat, referring to EIH (Europaeisch-Iranische Handelsbank or European-Iranian Trade Bank).

"There would now be enough evidence that the bank financed companies involved in Iran’s nuclear program."

The bank is already on the US sanctions list.

Western powers say they suspect Iran is trying to develop atomic weapons under the cover of its declared civilian nuclear energy program. Tehran says it needs nuclear power to meet a growing domestic demand for electricity.

World powers have tried to persuade Iran to suspend its nuclear program in return for trade and technology, but talks have ground to a halt.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, expressed her frustration on Tuesday at their lack of progress.

Ashton said after meetings with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the EU had wanted a "stronger and better" reply from Iran to her call to revive the talks, and said there appeared little room for new negotiations for now.

"I do urge Iran to think again and to consider coming back to the table … But from the letters that I’ve received, I don’t see that at the present time," Ashton said.

She was referring to a letter this month from Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, in which he said any talks should be just and "refrain from resorting to pressure instruments."

Analysts said his message was that Tehran would stick to its refusal to address its uranium enrichment drive.

The last talks, held in Istanbul in January, broke down after Iran rejected any notion of suspending the enrichment program in return for benefits offered by negotiators.

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