Hague challenges Iran to resume nuclear talks

Irish Examiner – British Foreign Secretary William Hague challenged Iran today to resume talks on its nuclear plans after the EU agreed tough new sanctions hitting Iran’s energy needs, banks and businesses.

Mr Hague said Iran’s refusal to co-operate with the West over its nuclear programme left the EU no option but to tighten the sanctions screw.

He was speaking after joining fellow EU foreign ministers in Brussels to sign up to measures banning new EU trade and investment in Iran, particularly in the oil and gas market, stepping up monitoring of Iranian banks and halting Iranian cargo flights into the EU.

The sanctions are the toughest the EU has imposed on any country, far exceeding existing United Nations sanctions.

They come a month after Washington also stepped up its own sanctions regime – but there was little immediate sign that they cut any ice in Tehran.

Yesterday Iran’s President Ahmadinejad warned that nations supporting Washington would be deemed “hostile” and would face a swift Iranian reaction.

But Mr Hague said further resistance would only mean more pressure from the West: “This unprecedented package of EU sanctions on Iran demonstrates the strength and unity of our concern about the Iranian government’s nuclear programme. Iran’s ongoing refusal to engage constructively on this issue leaves us no option but to implement these sanctions.”

The Foreign Secretary continued: “The message to the Iranian Government could not be clearer: the longer it refuses to talk to the E3+3 (America, the UK, China, France, Germany and Russia) about its nuclear programme, the greater the pressure and isolation Iran will bring upon itself.

“But Iran does have a choice: the UK and the international community stand ready to engage, and still believe that the way forward on this issue is multilateral negotiation.”

The West says Iran’s uranium enrichment programme goes beyond what is required for peaceful purposes. But Tehran denies a military motive, insisting it is not making a nuclear weapon.

The latest sanctions ban EU sales of equipment, technology, and services in the Iranian oil and gas sectors, particularly oil refinery, exploration and production.

The sale to Iran of “dual-use” goods – those which could potentially have military applications – is also banned.

Close monitoring of Iranian banks means EU money transfers of more than €10,000 must be notified to national authorities, and amounts over €40,000 need prior authorisation.

Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said even the extended sanctions fell short of “a comprehensive and effective sanction to include complete oil, trade, technological and political boycott of the regime”.

She said: “Foreign trade and the oil industry in Iran are basically in the hands of the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and a very limited section of the regime’s officials and their families.”

She said the willingness of the EU to resume talks with the Iranian regime sent the “wrong signals” and would be seen in Tehran as a sign of weakness, “thus encouraging them further to continue their nuclear project”.

Mr Hague was more optimistic: “Iran is a country with the potential for success and prosperity, and of being an influential voice in the international community. We stand ready to respond to Iran choosing to discuss its nuclear programme and grasping the successful future such a choice would bring.”

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