BEIJING, July 27 (Xinhua) -- European Union (EU) foreign ministers on Monday endorsed tougher sanctions in a bid to urge Iran to restart negotiations on its nuclear program.
Can the EU reach its goal through such a move? How will Iran respond to it?
The EU's restrictive measures, which went beyond UN sanctions imposed on June 10, followed a similar U.S. move.
The package of sanctions covers trade, financial services, energy and transport and additional designations for visa bans and asset freezes.
They also include measures to block oil and gas investment and ban exporting to Iran equipment and technology, especially any that could be used in making nuclear weapons, a statement from the EU said.
Analysts say there is a special background to the EU taking such a tough stance.
Since the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on Dec. 1 and a new European Commission was established in January, the EU has been striving to improve coordination and integration on foreign policy and stressing that it would "speak with one voice".
It hopes speaking in "a strong voice" on hot international events such as the Iranian nuclear issue, will enhance its status and influence on the global stage.
The Iranian nuclear issue also forms an important part of the new EU policies towards the Middle East. Pushing to address the issue is a significant step in applying its policies.
Observers said, though the new sanctions were tough, the EU still left room for a peaceful resolution of the issue, avoiding it developing into an "unmanageable dilemma."
Acting Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Steven Vanackere, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said the EU position was "very balanced," as it was a "dual-track" position.
"We want to be able to encourage Iran to come to the negotiation table, which can be the solution for the problems. At the same time, since it is a dual-track, if dialogue is not possible, sanctions can be necessary and then they have to be balanced," he said.
"I think we came to an agreement on a position which is quite balanced," he said.
Speaking at a press conference after the foreign ministers' meeting, Catherine Ashton, EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said, "I think today we sent a powerful message to Iran, and that message is that their nuclear program is a cause of serious and growing concern to us."
Though the new sanctions levied by the EU were a "comprehensive and robust package" and went well beyond UN sanctions agreed last month, "our objective remains to persuade Iranian leaders that their interests are served by a return to the (negotiating) table," she said.
The foreign ministers during their meeting reaffirmed the EU's commitment to working for a diplomatic solution to the controversial Iran nuclear issue, and backed a call to Tehran to resume meaningful negotiations.
STICKS AND CARROTS
As these unilateral sanctions roll out, Tehran is responding with both sticks and carrots.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned the EU on Sunday not to join U.S. "plots" against Iran, saying any cooperation with Washington would be regarded as hostile by the Iranian people and any actions against it would be met with speedy responses.
However, despite the defiant vows language, the Iranian government has begun to voluntarily flash signs of cooperation.
On the same day the EU approved its sanctions, Tehran sent a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), saying it is ready to restart talks with the agency on the nuclear fuel swap plan under no conditions.
Analysts say it is still too early to tell whether these mixed messages are stalling tactics or real compromises.
Iran sits on the world's second largest oil and gas reserves, making it capable of achieving energy self-sufficiency. Thus, besides worsening the country's already poor business environment, additional sanctions will only affect Iran's gasoline supply in the short term without getting the ideal results these punitive measures are designed to produce.
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