EU foreign ministers piled pressure on Iran over its contested nuclear programme yesterday, slapping sanctions on an extra 180 firms and individuals and threatening to hit out at its vital oil sector.
Expressing "deepening concerns" on the nature of the nuclear programme, the 27 European Union foreign ministers urged the bloc to "extend the scope" of current sanctions in order to strike at Tehran's financial heart. A statement said the ministers agreed to examine measures in particular affecting the financial system in the transport and energy sector.
Outraged by Tuesday's storming of the British embassy in Tehran, the ministers also said they considered "these actions against the UK as actions against the European Union as a whole".
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on joining the talks that he would urge his counterparts to squeeze Iran for both its nuclear activities and mounting human rights violations.
"I hope we will agree today additional measures that will be an intensification of the economic pressure on Iran, peaceful legitimate economic pressure particularly to increase the isolation of the Iranian financial sector," he said.
Though German counterpart Guido Westerwelle too favoured moves "to dry up Iran's financial sources", the crisis-hit EU is deeply split over slapping an oil embargo on Iran as well as over calls by some, including Britain, to agree an assets freeze on Iran's central bank.
The new sanctions follow the publication last month of a new report on Iran's contested nuclear activity by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The punitive measures target both firms and individuals involved in the nuclear programme and those linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line (IRISL) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Much of the international community fears Iran's nuclear programme masks a drive for a weapons capability, though Tehran says it serves peaceful civilian energy and medical purposes only.
Barak rules out military strike
Occupied Jerusalem: Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak yesterday ruled out a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities ‘for the moment' but said his country would keep all options open.
"We have no intention of acting for the moment... We should not engage in war when it is not necessary, but there may come a time or another when we are forced to face tests," Barak said in remarks to public radio.
"Our position has not changed on three points: a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, we are determined to stop that, and all options are on the table," he added.
Barak said he was confident that military action against Iran would not be devastating for Israel.
"War is not a picnic, but if Israel is forced to act, we won't have 50,000, 5,000 or even 500 dead, so long as people stay in their homes," he said, noting that rockets fired at Israel by Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War had not killed a single Israeli.