AN OIL embargo against Iran has been agreed as part of EU sanctions over its nuclear programme.
Diplomats say the measures, adopted by the EU's 27 foreign ministers, include an immediate embargo on new contracts for crude oil and petroleum products while existing ones are allowed to run until July.
Iran says its nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes. But many international officials fear the country is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
EU diplomats called the measure part of a twin track approach: increase sanctions to discourage what they suspect is Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons but to emphasize at the same time the international community's willingness to talk.
The EU also agreed to freeze the assets of the Iranian central bank. Together, the two measures are intended not only to pressure Iran to agree to talks but also to choke of funding for its nuclear activities.
In October EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton wrote to Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, saying her goal was a negotiated solution that "restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme." She has not yet received a reply.
In advance of the decision, negotiators worked hard to try to ensure that the embargo would punish only Iran - and not EU member Greece, which is in dire financial trouble and relies heavily on low-priced Iranian oil.
The foreign ministers agreed to a review of the effects of the sanctions, to be completed by May 1.
Brent North Sea crude for delivery in March gained 77 cents to $110.63 a barrel in London shortly after the deal was announced.
New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate crude for the same period climbed 88 cents to $99.21 a barrel.