US says new EU Iran sanctions 'another strong step'

The United States said Monday that a European Union embargo on Iran's oil exports and other sanctions are "another strong step" to raise pressure on Tehran to curb its nuclear ambitions.

The EU agreed on an immediate ban on oil imports and a gradual phase-out of existing contracts between now and July 1. They also froze the assets of the country's central bank, but allowed for "legitimate trade" to continue.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the sanctions "are another strong step in the international effort to dramatically increase the pressure on Iran" over its nuclear aims.

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"They are consistent with steps the US previously has taken and with new US sanctions on Iran" that President Barack Obama signed into law on December 31, according to a statement from the two cabinet officials.

The new US sanctions target Iran's central bank and financial sector.

They are meant to hit Iran's crucial oil sector and require foreign firms to make a choice between doing business with Tehran's financial sector and central bank or the mighty US economy and financial sector.

The new US and EU sanctions follow a flurry of unilateral punitive measures by US, European and Asian countries as well as four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions.

"This new, concerted pressure will sharpen the choice for Iran's leaders and increase their cost of defiance of basic international obligations," said the statement by Clinton and Geithner.

"The United States and our international partners are committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," it added.

It described the push as part of the pressure track aimed at encouraging Iran to return to the track of negotiations which were last held in Turkey in January last year.

The talks involved Iran as well as the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

But the six international powers are still waiting for a reply to a letter offering terms for negotiations that was sent months ago by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Ashton's office said Friday.

"Instead, Iran has refused to address the international community's serious and well-founded concerns about its nuclear program," the joint US statement said.

"These concerns have only been heightened by Iran's inability to explain how its nuclear program is, as it claims, exclusively peaceful in nature or to provide any credible response to the IAEA's November 2011 report that detailed the potential military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program," it said.

The IAEA is the International Atomic Energy Agency, or UN nuclear watchdog.

by Ella Ide © 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Jan 23, 2012