WASHINGTON – In a diplomatic turnabout after years of U.S.-European tensions over how to confront Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, the 27-nation European Union on Thursday gave initial approval to the toughest sanctions on Iran in its history.
The restrictions will exceed those in a United Nations Security Council resolution adopted last week and move Europe closer to a broad trade embargo of the kind the United States has adopted.
Chief among the measures adopted at an EU summit in Brussels is a ban on new investment in Iran’s oil and gas industry. Other steps would target Iran’s financial sector, its shipping insurance business and the state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line. Final details are to be worked out by late July.
The EU’s actions follow by a day the Obama administration’s announcement of its own unilateral sanctions and indicated a growing convergence in the West on the need to take a tougher line with Iran.
France, under President Nicolas Sarkozy, has been more hawkish than President Barack Obama has, but other countries, such as Germany and Italy, have been less enthusiastic about harsher sanctions.
What’s changed minds, diplomats and analysts said, are last year’s revelations that Iran was building a covert uranium enrichment facility; evidence that the country was secretly buying equipment for military use; the regime’s repression following the disputed June 2009 election; and a perception that Iran rebuffed Obama’s attempts to engage the country’s leaders.
“It’s more difficult to defend Iran today than it was a year and two weeks ago,” a European diplomat said Thursday, referring to the killings, arrests and intimidation that followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election.