Europe’s foreign ministers will sharply ramp up pressure on Iran and Syria at talks on Monday, while taking a “big step” in Africa by agreeing to assist Mali reconquer its north from rebels.
Meeting days before a European Union summit, the bloc’s 27 foreign ministers are tipped to agree what a diplomatic source dubbed "one of the toughest packages of sanctions" yet against Tehran over its disputed nuclear programme.
“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. “We want the EU tomorrow to send a clear signal to Tehran,” he added. “It is time for a political solution.”
Diplomatic sources said EU member states will 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, will be prohibited, and an extra 30 companies put on a list of firms hit by an EU assets freeze. As violence intensifies in Syria, EU are to slap an assets freeze and travel ban on 28 Syrians and two firms, the 20th set of sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's regime since the start of the conflict in March last year.