European foreign ministers have approved tighter sanctions on Iran. Tehran has condemned the measures but at the same time signalled it was willing to resume negotiations over its nuclear program.
Iran is cutting an ever-lonlier figure on the international stage
European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels Monday have approved new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. In a surprise move, Tehran shortly afterwards said it was prepared to return to negotiations without conditions, according to the country's official news agency.
At the heart of the sanctions is the concern that Iran's controversial uranium enrichment programme is not - as Tehran claims - for civilian purpose, but rather intended to develop nuclear weapons.
"Today we sent quite a powerful message to Iran that their nuclear programme is a cause for serious and growing concern to us," the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton said.
An obligation for transparency
The new restrictions are likely to hit the backbone of Iran's economy - foreign trade, financial services and the oil and gas sector. Officials have described the measures as the toughest sanctions the European Union has ever adopted.
Westerwelle said Iran needs to comply with international calls for more transparency
The measures are intended to block oil and gas investment and undermine Tehran's refining and natural gas capabilities. They also ban the export to Iran of dual-use goods that can be used both for civilian and military purposes.
The sanctions will also further limit the activities of Iranian trading banks and insurers, including restrictions on money transfers to Iran.
"Of course Iran has the right to use nuclear technology for civilian purposes," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.
"But that also means that of course there is an obligation for transparency. A nuclear armed Iran is something that we can not accept."
Iran prepared to resume talks
Iran has denounced the new sanctions as confrontational and said they would only further damage the already difficult relations with Brussels.
But Tehran has at the same time signalled willingness to return to negotiations. The country's envoy to the IAEA in Vienna on Monday suggested talks should be resumed.
The EU's Catherine Ashton welcomed the announcement but said she wanted to see the details first.
"As far as I can see this is to be welcomed... but we need to study the details," she told reporters at a news briefing.
The last high-level talks between Iran and the six world powers – Germany, Britain, China, France, Russia and the US – were held in Geneva in October 2009. The nuclear fuel swap agreed upon there has since stalled.
Author: Timothy Jones, Andreas Illmer (AFP/Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner