France, Germany and Britain last night accused Iran of threatening the "peace and security of us all" as the European Union imposed sweeping sanctions and an unprecedented oil embargo on the Islamic republic.
The steps, agreed by EU foreign ministers in Brussels, amounted to the most punitive restrictions yet imposed on Iran.
All member states have signed up to an immediate ban on any new contracts for the purchase or transport of Iranian crude oil or refined petroleum.
Any existing agreements will be honoured until July 1, after which all imports must cease. Last year, EU countries -- mainly Greece, Italy and Spain -- bought almost 600,000 barrels of oil from Iran every day, accounting for 24pc of the country's total exports.
British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a rare joint statement with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. The three leaders described the sanctions as "unprecedented", adding: "The Iranian leadership has failed to restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. We will not accept Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran has so far had no regard for its international obligations and is already exporting and threatening violence around its region."
The leaders urged Iran to obey six United Nations resolutions and stop enriching uranium. "The door is open to Iran to engage in serious and meaningful negotiations about its nuclear programme," they said.
In addition, the EU has imposed financial sanctions, freezing assets held in Europe by the Iranian Central Bank and banning any trade in gold, diamonds and precious metal with Iranian public bodies.
Eight new financial institutions will be added to an existing list of Iranian entities subjected to asset freezes in the EU.
Bank Tejarat, the last Iranian bank with a sizeable operation in the EU, is understood to have been included for the first time.
The final details of any measures taken against this bank are unclear. They are expected to be complex in order to minimise any disruption to legitimate trade: EU exports to Iran still totalled £9.5bn (€11.36bn) last year. But restrictions could have significant consequences.
Iran responded yesterday by repeating its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital link in the global oil supply chain. Mohammed Ismail Kowsari, the deputy chairman of the Iranian parliament's national security committee, said the waterway "would definitely be closed if the sale of Iranian oil is violated in any way". (© Daily Telegraph, London)