Europeans stiffen sanctions against Iran

December 1, 2011

European nations, angered by a mob attack on the British Embassy in Tehran, stiffened their sanctions against Iran on Thursday but stopped short of halting oil purchases from the increasingly isolated Islamic government.

The new sanctions targeted additional members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and businesses controlled by its members, according to an announcement after a European Union foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. In addition, the E.U. banned doing business with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line.

The Revolutionary Guard, a military force controlled by Iran’s Shiite Muslim supreme leader, has been targeted before by U.S. and European sanctions. The decision Thursday added to the number of its members who are banned from doing business with E.U. countries or receiving visas to visit them.

Thursday’s moves fell short of the tough new measures predicted by some diplomats Wednesday after young Iranian hard-liners ransacked two British diplomatic compounds in Iran. Some officials had said that the trashing of the British Embassy would be a turning point in efforts to reinforce Iran’s isolation and increase pressure on its government to abandon what Western nations and Israel say is a program to develop nuclear weapons.

Nonetheless, British Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed satisfaction with the decision, saying that the 180 Iranian people and organizations named in the new sanctions include some “directly associated with the nuclear program.”

“The E.U. made very clear that it will not bow to Iran’s intimidation and bullying tactics,” he added in a statement. “We will not back down and agreed today to work on further sanctions, including in the areas of finance and energy.”

In Washington, senators from both political parties chided the Obama administration Thursday for not moving faster to tighten the economic screws on Iran. One Republican lawmaker decried what he called an “enthusiasm gap” between the White House and Congress over a need to get tough with Iran.

After Tuesday’s attacks, Britain closed its embassy in Tehran and ordered the Iranians to close their embassy in London, saying the mob had been allowed to destroy embassy property as Iranian police looked on. In sympathy, France, Italy and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors for consultations, a diplomatic gesture that shows displeasure but allows their embassies to continue functioning with lower-ranking diplomats.

Several European countries had sought to include in Thursday’s retaliatory measures a ban on oil purchases from Iran, which would have been a strong blow against the Islamic republic’s main industry and foreign-exchange earner. But they failed to win enough support to approve the measure.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters in Brussels that Greece, in particular, objected to the proposal because it buys much of its petroleum from Iran. France and other governments will seek to identify other sources for Greece that would make the ban possible later, he suggested.

Several European ambassadors in Iran, accompanied by the heads of mission from Russia, Canada and Australia, visited the British Embassy grounds and a diplomatic residential compound Thursday to inspect the damage and expressed shock at what they saw. They described the demonstrators’ actions Wednesday as a “rampage.”

Windows were broken, doors were forced open and objects had been tossed out of windows, they said. Paintings had been cut up, computers were smashed and slogans were sprayed on the wall.

“This is awful,” said one diplomat, who asked not to be named for fear of souring his country’s relations with Iran. “The inside of the building has been completely demolished.”

Iranian police prevented foreign journalists from accompanying the diplomats.

At a hearing in Washington of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lawmakers berated administration officials for opposing bipartisan legislation that would clamp new sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran. Lawmakers argued that harsh measures were needed to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

“Your sense of urgency should have risen to our sense of urgency, and we haven’t seen that,” said Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), who cited a report last month by U.N. nuclear inspectors documenting secret Iranian efforts to acquire technology used in making nuclear weapons.

The Senate was expected to vote within 24 hours on an amendment sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to impose further sanctions on Iran beyond the new measures announced by the administration on Nov. 21. A controversial provision in the Senate proposal would ban U.S. companies from doing business with any foreign financial institution with ties to Iran’s central bank.

David S. Cohen, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told the Senate panel that the administration was looking into ways to increase pressure on Iran’s banking sector. But he argued that the Senate proposal risked harming U.S. allies and fragmenting a coalition that has been built carefully over many months.

Erdrbrink reported from Tehran. Staff writer Joby Warrick in Washington contributed to this report.

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