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Iran to Face New E.U. Sanctions, Brown Says

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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said today at a news conference with U.S. President George W. Bush that Britain will urge Europe to impose further sanctions to discourage the country from developing nuclear weapons. (June 16) Video by AP

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By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 17, 2008

LONDON, June 16 -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced plans Monday for new European sanctions against Iranian banking, oil and natural gas interests, signaling a growing willingness by Western allies to join President Bush in punishing Tehran for its nuclear enrichment program.

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With Bush by his side at 10 Downing Street, Brown said Britain and the other members of the European Union had agreed to freeze the assets of Bank Melli, Iran's largest bank, and would consider separate sanctions targeting Iran's oil and natural gas industry. E.U. ministers are to take formal action as early as Tuesday, officials said.

Brown's announcement, which followed meetings with Bush, was aimed at ratcheting up pressure on the Islamic republic to curtail its nuclear activities and allow more extensive international inspections.

"We will take any necessary actions so that Iran is aware of the choice it has to make: to start to play its part as a full and respected member of the international community or face further isolation," Brown said.

The endorsement of sanctions was a notable victory for Bush, who is entering his final months in office and, like Brown, is struggling against low approval ratings and sharp political opposition at home. Bush made Iran's uranium enrichment program a key focus of his week-long trip to Europe, which ended Monday here in Britain.

At his first stop last week, the Balkan republic Slovenia, Bush and E.U. leaders issued a joint statement threatening the kind of financial sanctions announced Monday. Over the weekend, the United States and five European nations offered a package of incentives to Iran in exchange for a halt to its nuclear efforts.

Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and has declared repeatedly that it will never give up its uranium enrichment program. But Bush and other Western leaders fear that the enriched uranium could be diverted to nuclear weapons.

European action against Bank Melli would come on top of restrictions imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department against Melli and other state-owned Iranian financial institutions this year. From 2002 to 2006, Bank Melli sent $100 million to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other organizations that the United States has designated as terrorist groups, according to Treasury officials.

Treasury has also moved to cut off another major Iranian bank, Bank Saderat, from the international financial system.

The United States has had numerous other measures in force against Iran since shortly after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

Stephen J. Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, told reporters on Air Force One that the sanctions show close agreement among the United States and its European allies on Iran. "I think there was a lot of questions some of you had about whether we were knit up with the Europeans on Iran policy before we left," Hadley said. "I think it's pretty clear that the answer is yes."

Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, a London-based public policy group, said Monday he was surprised by the swiftness of the move to impose E.U. financial sanctions against Iran. The action came just two days after the E.U.'s top diplomat offered the incentives package to Tehran, which has not yet formally rejected it.


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