- Associated Press - Thursday, June 17, 2010

BRUSSELS | The European Union on Thursday adopted new sanctions against Iran, the latest in a series of measures taken by the international community in an effort to halt the country’s nuclear program.

The restrictions come on top of a fourth round of sanctions imposed last week by the U.N. Security Council to curtail Iran’s nuclear program over fears it is developing weapons. The council endorsed those sanctions after Iran rebuffed a plan to suspend uranium enrichment and swap its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium for fuel rods.

The European Union “remains deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, and new restrictive measures have become necessary,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy said after a European summit focused primarily on economic issues.

A statement said the sanctions will target dual-use items that could be used as part of a nuclear program, and Iran’s oil and gas industry - including the “prohibition of new investment, technical assistance and transfers of technologies.”

Iran’s shipping and air cargo companies will be blacklisted and banned from operating in EU territory, and new visa bans and asset freezes will be imposed on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The sanctions also encompass trade insurance and financial transactions.

The measures are meant to strengthen past embargoes imposed by the EU in response to U.N. Security Council resolutions.

They are also in line with similar measures adopted by the Obama administration, which imposed penalties on Wednesday against additional individuals and institutions it says are helping Iran develop its nuclear and missile programs and evade international sanctions.

The United States, Israel and the EU fear that Iran will continue to upgrade its uranium-enrichment program until it can produce a nuclear weapon.

Iran vehemently denies the charge, saying that its program is intended solely for peaceful purposes such as energy-generation, and that it has the right to enrich uranium under the international nonproliferation treaty.

Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, said that Tehran would retaliate against the EU for additional sanctions.

“Europeans should not think of imposing sanctions on Iran following the U.N. Security Council resolution,” Iran’s official news agency quoted him as saying. “In case of imposing sanctions by the EU, Iran will consider the issue of reciprocity.”

The new EU sanctions will now be passed on to government technical experts to work out the specifics of which companies and products would be targeted, and how. This could be a tricky procedure, given the different economic interests of EU countries involved.

Officials say the procedure would continue for a month before the final list is endorsed by EU foreign ministers at their next meeting at the end of July.

The union’s foreign-policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has said the door remains open for negotiations with Iran.

She said on Monday she had invited the country’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, to discuss the issue. EU officials said Iran was expected to accept the invitation and that talks could resume later this summer. Mrs. Ashton said Thursday she was still awaiting a reply.

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