21st Jul 2019

EU unclear about next move on Iran

European Union foreign ministers on Monday (25 January) left a Brussels meeting without a clear picture as to what should be the bloc's next move regarding Iranian non-compliance with international demands regarding its nuclear programme.

France for its part pushed for the EU to ready fresh sanctions against Tehran, following on from a similar warning on Monday from Berlin, although European powers have said that no such action should be taken unilaterally in the absence of consensus in the United Nations Security Council.

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"The Europeans have to prepare the sanctions process," France's Europe minister, Pierre Lellouche, told a press conference after the meeting.

"We have been in talks for six years," he continued, adding: "All the West's proposals have been rejected."

Mr Lellouche warned that Iran's enrichment of uranium was now at the "threshold of militarisation."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday told national diplomats that sanctions were on the cards if Tehran continued its intransigence.

"Time is running out," she said, according to German media, while adding that ratcheting up sanctions against the country would be a "tragedy for the Iranian people."

Other EU member states were more sanguine , with the bloc's new foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, underscoring the need to await agreement at the UN level before Europe could move forward: "We just have to wait and see what comes out of the discussions of the Security Council."

Sweden's foreign minister, Carl Bildt, also told reporters: "The sanction instrument is a very blunt one so it should be used with extreme care. Our aim is to get the Iranians to the negotiating table and have a political solution."

The Security Council permanent five - China, France, Russia, the UK and the US - and Germany have already met once in 2010 to consider further sanctions, but without reaching agreement.

World powers are concerned at the possibility that Iran's nuclear energy programme is secretly aimed at developing weapons in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Tehran maintains the programme only has peaceful ends, intended to provide further electricity resources to its citizens.

Iran has called for all nuclear weapons states across the Middle East to disarm and for the region to become a nuclear weapon free zone. Israel, its long-standing nemesis, has never acknowledged its nuclear capacity, although it is widely understood that Israel has 100 to 200 such weapons. 

The UN Security Council has slapped sanctions on Iran three times as a result of its uranium enrichment activities.

Most recently, the International Atomic Energy Agency's offer to ship Iran's low-enriched uranium overseas for reactor-fuel enrichment was rejected by the Islamic republic.


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