EU to impose tougher sanctions on Iran

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EU governments will shrug off Iranian threats today and impose tougher sanctions in a bid to curb the regime's nuclear ambitions.

As the war of words over Iran's nuclear programme intensifies, Europe's foreign ministers meeting in Brussels will target the country's energy industry, blocking new European investment in the oil and gas sector, stepping up monitoring of Iranian banks and extending a list of regime insiders whose European assets are frozen.

Yesterday Iran's President Ahmadinejad warned that any nations taking such measures in support of Washington would be deemed "hostile" and would face a swift Iranian reaction.

But that will not deter Foreign Secretary William Hague and his counterparts implementing a package designed to choke off a nuclear programme which the West says goes beyond what is required for peaceful purposes.

Iran denies its uranium enrichment efforts have any military motive, but the EU hopes tougher sanctions will encouragement the leadership to resume international discussions on its plans.

Most of the planned sanctions will come into force with immediate effect, while others require national formalities in some countries before taking effect.

But the result will be what one EU diplomat called "the most substantial, far-reaching, autonomous sanctions package that the EU has adopted against any country".

The sanctions involve a crackdown on European involvement in the Iranian energy market, stopping sales of equipment, technology, and services in the oil refinery, exploration and production sectors.

A wider ban will halt sales of any goods which could potentially have military applications, with the exception of some medical goods.

There will be "enhanced vigilance" of the activities of Iranian banks operating in the EU: any money transfers of more than 10,000 euros (£8,360) must be notified to national authorities, and amounts over 40,000 euros will require prior authorisation.

Bans on new Iranian banking relationships with the EU, on providing insurance and re-insurance to the Iranian government, and on cargo flights to EU airports from Iran, are also being put in place.

The measures will be welcomed in Washington, where President Barack Obama last week thank David Cameron for his efforts to back stronger EU sanctions and warned: "We remain committed to a diplomatic solution. But the Iranian government must understand that the path of defiance will only bring more pressure and more isolation."

That defiance emerged hours before the sanctions agreement, with President Ahmadinejad warning countries against siding with Washington and saying his country would "respond strongly to any threat".

Iran state television quoted him as declaring: "I should tell you that anyone who adopts a measure against the Iranian nation... should know that Iran will react swiftly," he added. "Experience shows that such a reaction by the Iranian nation will cause you to regret it."

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