Europe’s foreign ministers were to sharply ramp up the pressure on Iran and Syria at talks yesterday, while also agreeing to assist Mali reconquer its north from rebels and Islamist extremists.
Meeting days before a EU summit, the bloc’s 27 foreign ministers were tipped to agree what a diplomatic source dubbed “one of the toughest packages of sanctions” yet over Tehran’s nuclear program.
“Iran has not moved on any of the important questions over the past few months. Therefore, we must increase the sanctions pressure,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Sunday.
Diplomatic sources said EU member states were to sanction dealings with banks, trade and gas imports, and agree for the first time to hit Iran’s telecoms sector.
All dealings between European and Iranian banks will be banned above a certain “relatively low” threshold, although exceptions will be allowed in some medical and humanitarian cases, a diplomat said.
Imports of Iranian gas, though small, are to be prohibited, and an extra 30 companies put on a list of firms hit by an EU assets freeze.
As violence in Syria intensifies, the ministers are to slap an assets freeze and travel ban on 28 Syrians and two firms, the 20th set of sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime since fighting started in March last year.
The measures target people linked to violence against protestors and firms accused of supplying equipment to the regime.
Differences of view over the Syria conflict and how to end it were at the center of closed door talks in Luxembourg on Sunday night between the 27 ministers and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Moscow has repeatedly refused to back international calls for al-Assad to step down and with China vetoed three rounds of UN Security Council sanctions against him.
Taking what a Brussels diplomat described as “a big step for the EU,” the ministers are to tell Africa the bloc is ready to help Mali reconquer its vast north from pro-al-Qaeda forces by assisting a West African military force and helping train the country’s ragtag army.
The ministers are to sign off on an accord before a key meeting in the Malian capital, Bamako, on Friday, where the West African regional body ECOWAS, the African Union, the EU, the UN and Mali’s neighbors hope to flesh out a strategy to end the crisis.