The EU has slapped Iran and Syria with a new series of sanctions at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels. A potential oil embargo for Iran was discussed, but a decision on the matter was put off.
EU foreign ministers hope their sanctions will have an effect
The European Union is piling the pressure on Iran and Syria. At meeting in Brussels on Thursday, the foreign ministers of the 27 member states agreed to ban 12 Syrian government figures from entering the EU and put embargos on 11 further Syrian companies.
Syria's financial sector will also be affected. With these latest measures, the EU is hoping to compel Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end his violent suppression of the opposition movement in Syria.
In response to a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency indicating that Iran could be developing nuclear weapons, 180 Iranian individuals and businesses were also put on the EU's black list.
Outrage over storming of British embassy
The foreign ministers emphasized that the new sanctions were separate from their reaction to Iranian protesters storming the British embassy in Tehran on Tuesday.
The EU condemned the attacks against the British embassy
Britain has closed the embassy in response to the attack. The EU threatened an unspecified response.
The EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the ministers were "outraged by the attack on the British Embassy in Tehran and utterly condemn it. The Council views these actions against the United Kingdom as actions against the European Union as a whole."
Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said Germany had offered to take over the responsibility for the consular protection of British nationals in Iran. He also condemned the way Iranian authorities have handled the incident.
"To act as if it were simply a couple of demonstrating students is off the mark," he said, "because a country has the obligation to protect diplomatic missions in its territories."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was pleased with the response of his colleagues.
"I am very strongly impressed by the emphatic support of the rest of the EU on this issue, given the serious breach of the Vienna convention," he told reporters. That 1961 international treaty sets out rules for diplomatic relations between countries and calls for the protection of foreign missions.
Proposed embargo on Iranian oil
In addition to the latest sanctions against Iran, the EU is preparing further measures that would primarily target the country's energy and finance sectors. "There are still links to Europe that in our view must be cut," said Westerwelle. Europe needs to "dry up Iran's [financial] sources for its nuclear program," he added.
Westerwelle said that sanctions against the energy and financial sectors would hit the country much harder than previous measures. He also said that it was not a coincidence that the British embassy in Tehran was stormed after London imposed financial sanctions.
A proposed embargo on Iranian oil, however, would also hit parts of the EU. Much of Italy's and Greece's oil needs are met by Iran. Shortages brought about by an embargo could be made up from other supplier countries, according to French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. Ministers said a decision on an oil and finance embargo could come in January.
Arab League and EU work together on Syria
Luxembourg's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, drew a connection between the events in Iran and the suppression of the opposition in neighboring Syria, a country with which the Iranian government is friendly.
"It could turn out that a new Syrian regime is not as loyal to Iran," said Asselborn. "I just hope that Iran's ideological imperialism can be stopped."
Westerwelle praised the cooperation with the Arab League
On the issue of sanctions against Syria, the EU and the Arab League have worked together. Nabil Elaraby, the league's secretary general, also attended the foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels. This past weekend the Arab League agreed to wide-ranging sanctions against Syria.
This was an encouraging development, according to Westerwelle. "The fact that the European Union and the Arab League are exchanging ideas and talking together about what measures are needed to stop the repression in Syria is in itself something special."
In the case of Libya, cooperation between NATO and the Arab League led the United Nations Security Council to give the green light to a military intervention against leader Moammar Gadhafi. A similar approach for Assad in Syria does not appear to be in the cards.
Author: Christoph Hasselbach, Brussels / hf
Editor: Michael Lawton