Washington, Jan. 23 - The European Union’s 27 foreign ministers slapped new sanctions Monday on Iranian oil imports and the country’s Central Bank.
The measure prohibits any new oil contracts with the Islamic republic but allows existing deals to continue until July. It also freezes the assets of Iran's Central Bank and bans all trade in diamonds, gold and other precious metals with the bank and other public bodies.
Iran has repeatedly claimed its nuclear development program is for peaceful purposes, but refuses to allow international inspections of all nuclear facilities. Last November the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a damning report indicating concerted Iranian efforts to militarize its nuclear program.
The agreement by the EU foreign policy chiefs marks the strongest European response yet to Iran’s ongoing nuclear efforts. Many countries in the bloc have feared that sanctions would damage their already fragile economies and the ongoing debt crisis. Envoys in the bloc worked in advance of the decision to shield financially strained Greece, which relies on cheap Iranian oil, from the effects of the sanctions.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the embargo part of “an unprecedented set of sanctions.” Said Hague, “I think this shows the resolve of the European Union on this issue.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the Iranian issue was more than a regional concern.
“This is not a question of security in the region,” he said. “It is a question of security in the world.”
At the start of a meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party Knesset (parliament) faction Monday, Netanyahu lauded the European efforts but cautioned that more pressure is necessary to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
"Today the EU has decided to impose sanctions on the export of petroleum from Iran. I think that this is a step in the right direction,” Netanyahu said. “Sanctions will have to be evaluated on the basis of results. As of today, Iran is continuing to produce nuclear weapons without hindrance."