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US Senate unanimously backs sanctions on Iran

The US Senate agreed to impose new sanctions on Iran by penalising foreign institutions doing business with the Iranian Central Bank.

Iranian students hold posters of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Iranian students hold posters of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Image: Vahid Salemi/AP/Press Association Images

THE UNITED STATES Senate has unanimously approved new sanctions on Iran, joining European partners in protest against Iran’s disputed nuclear programme.

Yesterday’s 100-0 vote approved an amendment to the defence bill in order to introduce tough new measures against the Iranian Central Bank.

The move comes just days after hundreds of angry student protesters stormed the British embassy in Tehran, following the decision of Britain to approve a raft of new sanctions on Iran.

On Wednesday, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced the expulsion all Iranian diplomats from the UK, the immediate closure of the Iranian embassy in London, and the withdrawal of British diplomatic staff from Iran.

Germany, France and the Netherlands also recalled their ambassadors in solidarity.

EU fails to agree on oil embargo

Meanwhile, during a meeting of EU foreign ministers yesterday, an agreement was not reached on a proposal to impose an oil embargo against Iran — a measure that some argued would have choked off funding for Iran’s alleged programme to develop nuclear weapons.

But the ministers, incensed by the attack on Tuesday by an angry mob on the British embassy in Tehran, did impose a new round of sanctions targeting dozens of people, groups and businesses in the country.

The ministers also imposed new sanctions on Syrian individuals and businesses in hope of pressuring the regime there to halt its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the two issues are related, accusing Iran of supporting the violence in Syria. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates Sryian President Bashar Assad’s regime has killed more than 4,000 people over the past several months.

“There is a link between what is happening in Iran and what is happening in Syria,” Hague said.

Greek reliance on Iranian oil

In Iran, EU sanctions were imposed on 37 people and 143 “entities” — companies or organisations. The sanctions include a freeze on assets held in the European Union and a ban on traveling to EU countries.

The full list of names of those targeted will not be known until they are published in the official journal of the EU on Friday. But the official conclusions of the meeting said they include the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line and members of, and entities controlled by, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that Greece, which relies on Iranian oil, had objected to a ban on buying it. But he said work toward an embargo would continue.

“Greece has put forward a number of reservations,” Juppe said. “We have to take that into account. We have to see with our partners that the cuts can be compensated by the increase of production in other countries. It is very possible.”

Iran has denied it is pursuing nuclear weapons. The attack on the British embassy is believed to have begun as a state-approved protest over Western sanctions linked to the country’s nuclear program.

More sanctions for Syria

With regard to Syria, the EU foreign ministers imposed sanctions on 12 people and 11 entities, adding to the list of those previously sanctioned by the EU. The bloc is working with the Arab League to halt the violence, and the league’s chief, Nabil Elaraby, attended Thursday’s meeting.

A statement from the foreign ministers said the crackdown by the Syrian government “risks taking Syria down a very dangerous path of violence, sectarian clashes and militarisation.”

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The statement also said the EU is extremely worried about the deteriorating living conditions of the Syrian people in areas affected by the unrest, especially in the region of Homs. The EU urged the Syrian government to allow humanitarian organisations immediate access.

The White House welcomed the sanctions on both Iran and Syria, saying in a statement that it applauded “the EU’s determination to pressure these regimes to end their unacceptable actions, as well as its readiness to consider further steps going forward.”

“We look forward to continued coordination with both the European Union and other concerned governments to increase the pressure on both Syria and Iran to ensure that their flagrant violations of international norms comes to an end,” it said.

Camp Ashraf resistance

Also discussed at the meeting was the situation in Camp Ashraf, an enclave in eastern Iraq that houses about 3,400 Iranian exiles, many of whom are dedicated to overthrowing the government of Iran.

Iraq, whose government has close ties with Iran, has said Camp Ashraf must be closed by the end of this year. Struan Stevenson, a prominent member of the European Parliament, said Wednesday that Iraq’s government is “continuously working on its plan to attack Ashraf and massacre the residents.”

The UN says at least 34 people were killed when Iraqi security forces raided the camp in April.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said after the meeting that she is “in discussion and dialogue” with EU member states, the UN, the US and the Iraqi government to assure the safety of those now living in Camp Ashraf.

Additional reporting by the AP

Read: EU agrees new Iran sanctions – but no oil embargo>

Read: European powers pressure Iran following embassy attack>

Read: France recalls ambassador to Iran>

Read: UK expels all Iranian diplomats, closes embassy>

Read: UK withdraws diplomatic staff attack on Tehran embassy>

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