By LAURENCE NORMAN
European Union foreign ministers agreed Thursday to impose
new sanctions on additional Iranian entities, but a French
proposal for a blanket embargo on Iranian oil exports met
An EU statement released Thursday following the meeting
expressed "serious and deepening concerns" at Iran's nuclear
program and said the 27-nation bloc would consider further
measures against Iran's banking, transport and energy sector.
But the statement stripped out explicit mention of an oil
embargo or import restrictions on Iranian oil that was in
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said
an oil embargo was still "being debated" and diplomats said
some restrictions on Iran oil imports were likely to be imposed
in the coming months.
"The detail of exactly what should be done now goes to the
technical experts who decide what will work, what is
appropriate for European Union member states to do....So those
issues are being debated," Ashton said.
But the opposition the French proposal faced meant any move
toward an oil embargo is likely to be slower and more cautious
than Paris and a number of other European capitals had hoped.
"The pressure to work toward an oil embargo will not go
away," said one Brussels-based European diplomat. "How far this
will go is difficult to say. This could end up being a
The opposition to endorsing the oil embargo push was led by
Greece which is concerned about the economic impact on its
country if import restrictions force up oil prices. Greece has
become more reliant on Iranian imports in recent months as its
economic crisis has worsened. Several other countries besides
Greece also expressed concerns about the proposal, according to
After the meeting, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who
led the effort to enact the embargo, said he would continue to
advocate the measure. But he said the EU would also work to
respond to the concerns expressed by Greece and some
"We'll work with our partners so that the interruption of
Iranian imports can be compensated increased production from
other countries," Juppe said.
Juppe and other French officials had seen the embargo as a
critical component of the EU's efforts to counter the Iranian
nuclear program, arguing the measure would force change in Iran
because of the serious impact on a critical Iranian income
The EU did add some new sanctions on Iran Thursday. It
imposed an asset freeze and a travel ban on 180 additional
Iranian citizens and companies linked to the Iranian nuclear
industry. The EU also said it "deplores" a moved by Iran to
expel the United Kingdom ambassador. At the same time, the EU
said it sought a "diplomatic solution" to the impasse with
French officials have spoken of the need for "unprecedented"
sanctions on Iran, and an oil embargo would mark a significant
escalation of responses. The measure has caught the attention
of the oil markets in recent days, lending upward pressure to
prices. According to the International Energy Agency, Iran
exported 870,000 barrels a day to Europe in the second quarter, mostly
to Spain, Italy and Greece.
On Thursday, light, sweet crude oil for January delivery was
down 23 cents at $100.13 a barrel on the New York Mercantile
Exchange following a weak U.S. jobs report. Brent crude futures
were also down.
Separately Thursday, the foreign ministers tightened
measures against Syria over President Bashar al-Assad's
crackdown on protesters.
The EU is adding 12 people and 11 companies to its current
Syria sanctions list. Those targeted will have their assets
frozen. The individuals themselves will be subject to a travel
The EU also announced an export ban on key technology for oil and gas
industries, a ban on trade in Syrian public bonds and a
prohibition on Syrian banks opening new branches in the EU or
entering joint ventures with European financial firms. However
ministers again insisted that military intervention is off the
The EU repeated its call for "strong" United Nations action
on Syria. So far, Russia has blocked action against Syria at
the UN Security Council."
Dow Jones Newswires