BRUSSELS - The European Union tightened trade sanctions against Iran yesterday for defying a longstanding international demand to freeze uranium enrichment.
The new EU restrictions go slightly beyond existing UN trade sanctions and are designed to deny public loans or export credits to companies trading with Iran. France, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said European governments would also carefully watch financial groups doing business with Iranian banks and step up checks on ships and airplanes traveling to Iran.
"This resolution expands the range of restrictive measures adopted by the UN Security Council," an EU statement said. It called on member nations to "show restraint when granting new public loans for trade with Iran [and] to also be vigilant on activities taken by financial institutions with banks based in Iran."
Iran has refused to comply with repeated international demands to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can be used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons or nuclear energy. The United States suspects that the program is aimed at making nuclear weapons although Iran insists it is for peaceful purposes.
Earlier this week, France and the United States said Iran's response was insufficient to defuse the dispute because it has skirted the central question of whether it was ready to halt uranium enrichment.
The new sanctions expand existing limits on trade with Iran beyond the Security Council's three sets of sanctions that monitor trade and banking. But they do not go as far as sanctions on Iran's oil and gas trade that EU ministers threatened in June.
Britain, the United States, and their allies want to go further with their own sanctions targeting oil and gas and the finance sector that could badly hit Iran's already fragile economy. The tough independent sanctions would be a bid to overcome opposition from veto-wielding Security Council members China and Russia to a hardening of UN sanctions, a senior British official said yesterday.
Oil-rich Iran draws 80 percent of its revenues from energy exports and is already suffering from high inflation and rampant unemployment.
The British official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations, said the measures would be in addition to - not in place of - a fourth set of tougher Security Council penalties, which Britain expects to be considered in New York in October or November, and the newly tightened EU trade sanctions.
The EU's head office, the European Commission, separately began implementing on Thursday the third round of UN sanctions agreed in March.
Those measures prevent some Iranian officials from getting EU visas and freeze the assets of people or companies involved in the nuclear program.