EU Backs Further Sanctions on Iran, Urges Firmness (Update1)

By James G. Neuger

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- European governments backed a tightening of sanctions on Iran, notching up the pressure after the Islamic government flouted a United Nations deadline to halt uranium enrichment.

Accusing Iran of trying to build atomic weapons, the U.S. is pushing for a UN resolution to impose a travel ban on Iranian officials and to bar Iran from acquiring a wider range of weapons-making materials and equipment.

Europe favors a ``quick resolution that shows the solidarity of the international community on the Iranian nuclear question,'' German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters after chairing a European Union meeting in Brussels today.

Iran is pressing ahead with the nuclear program, relying so far on Russia and China to blunt the U.S.-led drive for tougher UN sanctions. Iran rejects American charges that it is seeking a weapons capability.

A UN resolution in December barred Iran from acquiring weapons-building materials or technology and froze the assets of 12 individuals and 11 groups including the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

National Honor

Iran ignored the UN's Feb. 21 deadline to stop enriching uranium, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling nuclear power ``very important for the progress and honor of the country.''

The outline of a follow-up resolution drafted by Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.S. is likely to go to the Security Council this week, British Ambassador to the UN Emyr Jones Parry said March 2.

EU governments favor ``further appropriate measures'' and urge ``the international community to act with the necessary firmness in support of this process,'' the foreign ministers said in a statement today.

The 27-nation EU ``deplored'' Iran's refusal to comply. The bloc ``reaffirmed at the same time its continuing support for efforts to find a negotiated long-term solution to the Iran nuclear issue.''

Inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities are at ``somewhat of a stalemate,'' Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN's atomic energy agency, said today in Vienna. New negotiations with Iran are the only way out of the impasse, he said.

Uranium Enrichment

That appeal was rejected by the EU, which took the lead in failed negotiations with Iran last year. Europe won't go back to the bargaining table until Iran suspends uranium enrichment, French European Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna said.

``The door remains open to dialogue, depending on Iran's attitude,'' Colonna said.

European governments have bucked U.S. calls for penalties on banks that provide credits for exports to Iran. Imposing sanctions without UN authorization might break EU law, officials say.

On a second front, the U.S. is working to contain Iranian influence in Iraq, accusing the Tehran government of fomenting attacks on American troops. The U.S. last month sent a second aircraft carrier group to the Persian Gulf.

In a diplomatic twist, the U.S. last week said it would attend a regional stability conference that will include representatives of Iran and Syria. The Baghdad conference would mark the first open contact between the U.S. and its regional adversaries over the issue of stabilizing Iraq.

To contact the reporters on this story: James G. Neuger in Brussels at jneuger@bloomberg.net .

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