The European Union announced yesterday that tough new sanctions will be imposed on Iran over the country's alleged attempt to acquire a nuclear arsenal, but the meeting in Brussels failed to agree on the imposition of an oil embargo aimed at hitting Tehran's main source of revenue.
EU foreign ministers set out plans under which member countries would gradually cut down on supplies from Iran, with France, which has been pushing for oil sanctions, claiming to be overcoming resistance among some states which had expressed concerns over the economic costs of an embargo.
Petroleum analysts have warned that global energy prices would rise following a ban on Iranian supplies, at a time when western Europe is struggling with recession.
Greece was reported to be particularly worried as Tehran has been offering deals on oil at a time when banks are reluctant to extend loans to Athens.
But French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe insisted that alternative sources would be found to replace Iran and costs could be kept down.
He said following the talks: "We are working to offset any shortfall if an oil embargo were imposed. We have to work with different partners so that the interruption of deliveries from Iran could be compensated by a rise in production in other countries. Greece has voiced some concerns, we have to take them into account."
Additional steps were taken to subject 37 Iranian nationals and 143 "entities" -- organisations and companies -- suspected of being involved in work on a possible nuclear weapons programme to travel restrictions and asset freezes.
The storming earlier this week of the British embassy and residences in Tehran during a demonstration, which London claims was state orchestrated, was discussed during the meeting and, according to diplomatic sources, added to the argument for taking punitive action against the Iranian regime.
The UK has since pulled its diplomats out of Iran. Germany, France and the Netherlands have recalled their ambassadors in gestures of solidarity.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "The EU demonstrated clear unity and solidarity with the UK on the outrageous attacks on our embassy."
The EU also imposed new sanctions on Syrian individuals and businesses with the aim of pressuring the regime there to halt its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests. (© Independent News Service)