EU slaps Iran and Syria with harsher sanctions

EU slaps Iran and Syria with harsher sanctions

EU slaps Iran and Syria with harsher sanctions

EU foreign polich chief Ashton hopes talks with Iran will start soon. EPA photo

European Union governments agreed to further sanctions against Syrian and Iranian banking, shipping and industrial sectors yesterday, cranking up financial and political pressures on the two countries.

The foreign ministers agreed to an assets freeze and travel ban against 28 Syrians and two firms, representing the bloc’s 19th round of restrictive measures against the al-Assad regime since the start of the conflict in March last year. Diplomats said the sanctions targeted people linked to violence against protesters, or firms accused of supplying equipment used by the regime to repress protests.

The latest sanctions bring to 181 the number of people and to 54 the number of companies on an EU blacklist, many of them members of al-Assad’s inner circle. The new measures were accompanied by a ban on EU residents buying, shipping, insuring or assisting in any way Syrian companies that trade or transport arms. Cargo flights operated by Syrian carriers and all flights operated by Syrian Arab Airlines may not have access to EU airports, according to the factsheet of sanctions released by the EU.

For Iran, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she hoped that turning up the heat on the Islamic Republic would persuade it to make concessions and that negotiations could resume “very soon.”

“I absolutely do think there is room for negotiations,” said Ashton, who represents the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany in their on-and-off talks with Iran. “I hope we will be able to make progress very soon.”

The new package targets EU dealings with Iran’s banks, shipping, and gas imports. Under the package, the EU bans all transactions between European and Iranian banks unless authorized in advance by national authorities, for example for humanitarian or medical reasons. It also tightens existing sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran.

Imports of Iranian gas will be prohibited, a symbolic gesture since the amounts involved are small, but the move sits alongside the much more significant July ban on imports of Iranian oil.

Sales of graphite and metals of potential use to Iran’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs are also to be closed down, while other measures target Iran’s shipping industry. The package also bans the use of EU vessels for transporting or storing Iranian oil. An EU asset freeze and travel ban will be imposed on 34 additional entities, particularly in the oil, gas and financial sectors, as well as on one person, who is claimed to be a government minister.