- Associated Press - Monday, July 26, 2010

BRUSSELS | The European Union and Canada on Monday separately adopted new sanctions against Iran, targeting the country’s foreign trade, banking and energy sectors.

The moves are the latest in a series of measures taken by the international community to halt Iran’s nuclear program. The EU’s measures, which leaders agreed to in principle in June, also blacklist Iran’s shipping and air cargo companies.

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast denounced the EU decision.

“Moving toward confrontational measures and supporting unilateral actions and damaging the atmosphere are not considered by us to be a good use of the opportunity,” Mr. Mehmanparast said, according to the state television network’s website.

Iran denies that it is working on a nuclear weapon, saying its program is intended solely for peaceful purposes such as energy generation.

EU foreign ministers in Brussels called the restrictions a “comprehensive and robust package” focused on trade, financial services, energy and transport, with visa bans and asset freezes for Iranian banks, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

The ministers reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to work for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue, and backed a call to Tehran to resume meaningful negotiations. The EU’s new measures will come into force in the next few weeks, after they are published in the bloc’s official gazette, officials said.

“I think today we sent a powerful message to Iran, and that message is that their nuclear program is a cause of serious and growing concern to us,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

Tehran has sought to deflect pressure and further sanctions by displaying a willingness to talk about nuclear issues — a line reinforced Monday by Tehran’s senior envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and welcomed by Mrs. Ashton.

Iran is ready to go back to the negotiating table” quickly to discuss exchanging some of its enriched uranium for fuel rods for Tehran’s nuclear reactor, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh told reporters in Vienna, Austria.

He spoke after presenting revised proposals on a possible swap to IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, who was expected to relay them to the U.S., France and Russia — the three nations engaged with Iran in such an exchange.

No details of the latest offer were available. But under a similar deal in May with Brazil and Turkey, Iran agreed to ship 2,640 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, where it would be stored. In exchange, Iran would get fuel rods made from 20 percent enriched uranium. That level of enrichment is high enough for use in research reactors but too low for nuclear weapons.

The new European restrictions, which are similar to measures adopted by the Obama administration, come on top of a fourth round of sanctions imposed last month by the U.N. Security Council to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.

In Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the country’s new measures will include a ban on any new Canadian investment in Iran’s oil and gas sector, and restrictions on exporting goods that could be used in nuclear programs.

Iranian banks also will will be barred from opening branches in Canada and Canadian banks will not be able to operate in Iran.