Europe steps up Iran sanctions as Hague welcomes ‘solidarity’

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Europe stepped up economic and diplomatic sanctions against Iran last night, in a move Foreign Secretary William Hague said was not prompted by the attack on the UK embassy in Teheran.

At talks with fellow EU foreign ministers, Mr Hague welcomed what he described as “a great deal of solidarity” from other EU capitals over the attack, with many countries withdrawing their ambassadors from Iran in protest.

But he said another round of sanctions designed to further isolate the regime was a separate issue already on the EU agenda.

The new sanctions include adding 180 individuals and Iranian businesses associated with the Iran regime to a list of those banned from travel in Europe and whose European assets are frozen.

They were people and companies involved with Iranian shipping lines, financial services, energy and transport, or those asociated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Mr Hague said further work on economic sanctions would continue towards a possible ban on Iranian oil exports to the EU.

“We have agreed to do further work to be brought forward to the next meeting of foreign ministers in January, but it is too early to say we have agreed to any oil measures,” he said.

“There will be further measures against Iran unless Iran changes its behaviour and the course of its (nuclear)policies.”

Mr Hague said the UK was pleased with the outcome, but it was not the end of the issue – further measures to be discussed next month would be designed to “severely affect the Iranian financial system and the energy and transport sectors”.

A ban on Iran exporting its oil to the EU could hit European companies and worsen the economies of some struggling member states which might face higher prices for oil from elsewhere.

Mr Hague said: “There is more work to be done on what we will do in the energy sector.”

Meanwhile, he said, the determination of the EU had been demonstrated again.

“I think the Iranian regime should hear that loud and clear from this meeting in Brussels,” he said.

Earlier, Mr Hague repeated his thanks for the support of member states, including Germany, France and the Netherlands which have also withdrawn their ambassadors from Iran following an attack by an Iranian mob on the UK embassy in Teheran. He said the long-term concern was with the Iranian nuclear programme, and the danger it posed to Middle East peace and the threat of proliferation spreading to other countries in the region.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said: “The council (of foreign ministers) is outraged by the attack on the British embassy in Teheran, and deplore the decision to expel the British ambassador.

“These actions against the UK are against the European Union as a whole.”

The foreign ministers also agreed the extension of sanctions against Syria, involving the extension of a ban on travel to Europe and the freezing of European assets on individuals and companies associated with the Assad family’s 40-year Syrian dictatorship.

Arriving at the talks, Mr Hague had highlighted what he said was a link between the Syrian and Iranian regimes.

Iran had been giving support to the suppression of dissent in Syria, he said, even while Iran had welcomed public protests in other parts of the world during the Arab Spring.

The Foreign Secretary said that as far as Syria and Iran were concerned “human rights and democracy have taken a step backwards”.