JUNE 14 2010 16:54h
EU foreign ministers examined on Monday how they can go further than new UN sanctions in putting pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear programme, while holding a hand out for talks.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, attending his first meeting with his European counterparts, said the EU must give a "strong lead" on the issues by "taking accompanying and additional measures."
Last Wednesday the United Nations Security Council slapped its fourth set of sanctions on Iran over suspicions that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Tehran insists that its nuclear programme is purely for civil energy uses.
The new UN measures authorise states to conduct high-seas inspections of vessels believed to be ferrying banned items to Iran and add 40 entities to a list of people and groups subject to travel restrictions and financial sanctions.
A draft EU text, seen by AFP but yet to be approved by the ministers, covers in particular "key sectors of the oil and gas industry with prohibition of new investment, transfers of technologies, equipment and services."
Iran has the world's second-largest reserves of natural gas and is OPEC's second largest oil exporter.
Global energy majors have come under increased international pressure over their activities in the country.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini confirmed that "Europe may reinforce the (UN) sanctions especially on technology regarding the extraction of oil and gas."
The EU could also introduce "very rigorous discipline in the banking and financial investments sector," he added.
Other EU nations were more cautious, with the Swedes in recent days calling on their partners to decrease the severity of the measures, according to a European diplomat.
- No one really believes that sanctions are going to sort out this problem or have much political effect - Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told reporters as he arrived for the talks in Luxembourg.
He added that "the only sanctions that have any effect... are the ones that are of a global and comprehensive nature," suggesting that the UN sanctions should be enough.
Another diplomat said that Germany had taken exception to the inclusion of the gas sector in the sanctions.
The assembled EU ministers were set to agree on what areas should be hit, so that EU heads of state and government can formally endorse the measures at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.
The details would then be decided in July.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, while saying the EU should put pressure on Iran "with its own measures," added that it was important "not to touch the people and to try above all to get the political elite back to the negotiating table."
To that end EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said in Luxembourg that she had written to Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, inviting him to resume negotiations on behalf of the five UN Security Council veto holders -- US, Russia, China, Britain, France -- and Germany.
"It seems to me more appropriate than ever that we should lose no time in doing this," she said, in the letter seen by AFP, adding that she was ready to meet "as soon as possible."
Tehran has long said that it accepts in principle such a meeting between Jalili and Ashton.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week lashed out at the UN Security Council as a "tool of dictatorship" and said new UN sanctions "will have no effect."