EU-3 call for toughening sanctions on Iran amid diplomatic stalemate

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The British, French and German foreign ministers called Friday for intensifying European Union sanctions on Iran, as western powers sought to show resolve in the face of Iran’s nuclear defiance and deter possible Israeli military action.

“It is necessary to increase pressure on Iran, to intensify sanctions, to add further to EU sanctions that are already enforced,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters ahead of an informal meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Cyprus Friday, Reuters reported.

“Sanctions are necessary and soon. I can’t see there is really a constructive will on the Iranian side for substantial talks,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Reuters.

The United States has also prepared a new file of sanctions that are aimed at squeezing Iranian financial reserves, diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor.

The show of resolve came as nuclear negotiations between six world powers and Iran remain at an impasse. Three rounds of meetings this year, and European oil sanctions that went into effect in July,  have so far failed to persuade Iran to agree to international demands that it “stop, ship and shut” its higher level 20% uranium enrichment activities and close its fortified Fordow enrichment facility. Iran has said it would be willing to discuss ending its 20% enrichment but wants recognition of its right to lower level enrichment for energy purposes, and sanctions relief.

Political directors from the P5+1, conferring in a conference call last week, decided not to hold another P5+1/Iran meeting at this time, the diplomatic sources said.

Of the six nations that make up the group–the United States, UK, France, Germany, China and Russia–only Moscow’s envoy expressed support for another meeting, a western diplomatic source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “Even the Chinese opposed” a meeting now, as no success is expected.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told foreign ministers she’d urged Iran, in a phone call with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator early last month, “to look very carefully at the proposals that have been put forward by the E3+3, so that we can now move forward.”

“Some ministers discussed the possibility of further sanctions,” an EU diplomat told Al-Monitor Friday. “I guess we will come back to this issue as not all ministers spoke, so it’s hard to judge whether there’s consensus or not.”

The EU-3 foreign minister statements Friday were largely intended to rally internal European resolve. They are “a joint reminder…that pressure is needed at the highest level…and to keep all of them motivated despite the adverse economic effect,” a second European diplomat told Al-Monitor Friday on condition of anonymity. “In terms of new sanctions, the thinking is in progress …In the meantime, we need to make sure there is no loophole.”

Efforts by the UN atomic watchdog agency to get access to an Iranian military base are similarly at an impasse. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in August that Iran had been engaging in an extensive clean up at the Parchin base, which some agency inspectors suspect may have been previously used to test a nuclear explosive device. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes.

“Basically the IAEA track is stuck and very much linked to progress in P5+1 talks,” the diplomat said. “The “Iranians are blocking everything on the IAEA track.”

“Because of Iran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA, there is no hope that sanctions can be lifted in the foreseeable future, to the greatest detriment of the Iranian people,” former IAEA deputy safeguards chief Pierre Goldschmidt told Al-Monitor.

“This being said, if Iran has indeed undertaken at Parchin and elsewhere nuclear weapons related experiments or activities, it is normal that it will not provide access to such locations before being certain that the IAEA will find no incriminating evidence,” Goldschmidt continued. “This is because the P5+1 has not yet offered Iran a grace period of impunity for acknowledging past undeclared and nuclear weapons related activities.”

“One has to realize that Iran cannot request such a grace period because it would be immediately considered to be an admission that it has something to hide,” Goldschmidt said. “So the ball is clearly in the P5+1 court.”

Separately, Canada announced Friday that it is suspending diplomatic relations with Iran. It ordered Iran’s embassy in Ottawa closed, and said Iranian diplomats have five days to leave Canada.

(Photo: Participants of an informal EU foreign affairs ministers meeting pose for a family photo in Paphos, Cyprus, September 7, 2012. REUTERS/Cyprus.)