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EU member states have announced a new package of sanctions against Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.

Foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg “significantly broadened EU restrictive measures”, focusing on Iranian banks, trade and gas exports, officials said.

The ministers reiterated their “serious and deepening concerns” over Iran’s nuclear activities and their commitment to “work for a diplomatic solution”.

They suspect Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, something it denies.

Analysts say the unilateral sanctions announced by the US and EU, as well as those imposed by the UN Security Council, have done significant damage to the Islamic Republic’s economy.

Earlier this month, riots broke out when Iran’s currency, the rial, plunged to new lows against the dollar, according to local currency exchange websites, having lost 80% of its value since the start of the year.

The Council of the European Union said the new sanctions agreed targeted Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, and government revenues allocated to them.

“They are meant to persuade Iran to engage constructively by negotiating seriously and addressing the concerns of the international community,” a statement said.

“The sanctions are not aimed at the Iranian people.”

The Council prohibited all transactions between European and Iranian banks, unless they are explicitly authorized by national authorities under strict conditions.

There will be a ban on short-term export credits, guarantees and insurance. Medium- and long-term commitments are already banned.

The ministers also prohibited the export to Iran of further materials relevant to the Iranian nuclear and ballistic programmes or to industries controlled by the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), including graphite, raw or semi-finished metals such as aluminium and steel, as well as software for integrating industrial processes.

The import, purchase and transport of natural gas from Iran was also banned, mirroring the more significant embargo on oil imports which came into effect in July.

European companies were also forbidden from providing shipbuilding technology and oil storage capabilities, as well as flagging and classification services to Iranian tankers and cargo vessels.

Finally, the Council targeted 34 additional Iranian entities allegedly providing substantial financial support to the Iranian government and one person involved in the Iranian nuclear programme with an asset freeze and a travel ban. Those affected will be named on Tuesday.

“The objective of the EU remains to achieve a comprehensive, negotiated, long-term settlement which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme, while respecting Iran’s legitimate right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy under the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” the EU statement said.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, told reporters before Monday’s meeting that there was still “room for negotiations” between Iran and the P5+1 – the UK, US, France, China, Russia and Germany.

The P5+1 have asked Iran to stop enriching uranium to 20%.

The Iranian government says it requires 20% enriched uranium for its medical research reactor in Tehran, but Western experts say it could be converted to weapons-grade material within six months.

Meanwhile, Sweden has summoned Israel’s ambassador in Stockholm. The move came after an Israeli foreign ministry official was quoted by the Haaretz newspaper as saying the Swedish government would oppose further sanctions to protect a deal between the telecommunications group, Ericsson, and the mobile operator, Irancell.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt condemned the “mudslinging”, telling the TT news agency: “This is not how I think mature nations should interact with each other and I will react quite sharply against Israel.”

In a separate development on Monday, the leading European satellite provider Eutelsat took 19 Iranian state-run television and radio channels off air on Monday, citing “reinforced EU Council sanctions”.

People in the Middle East will still have access to most of the channels operated by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (Irib) – including English-language news service, Press TV, and Arabic-language al-Alam – but they will no longer be available in Europe except via the internet.


North Korea has made the arrangements to put into position a long-range rocket for a controversial launch next week – amid reports it is also planning a nuclear test.

Pyongyang says the Unha-3 rocket, which it plans to launch between 12 and 16 April, will put a satellite into orbit.

But opponents of the move fear it is a disguised long-range missile test.

Meanwhile, South Korean officials say new satellite images suggest the North is preparing to carry out a third nuclear test.

North Korea has made the arrangements to put into position a long-range rocket for a controversial launch next week

North Korea has made the arrangements to put into position a long-range rocket for a controversial launch next week

The images show piles of earth and sand at the entrance of a tunnel at the Punggye-Ri site, where tests of a nuclear bomb were previously carried out in 2006 and 2009, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports.

“Recent satellite images led us to conclude the North has been secretly digging a new underground tunnel in the nuclear test site… besides two others where the previous tests were conducted,” one unnamed official told the AFP news agency.

North Korea has been under close scrutiny by its neighbors and the international community since Kim Jong-Un became leader of the secretive state following the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il, in December 2011.

Pyongyang had agreed in February to a partial freeze in nuclear activities and a missile test moratorium in return for US food aid. But the deal was put on hold last month after the North announced its rocket launch plans.

Foreign journalists were taken by train to the Sohae satellite station at Tongchang-Ri, on the country’s north-west coast, to see for themselves the final preparations for the rocket launch.

All three stages of the rocket were visibly in position at the launch pad, an Associated Press reporter said from the scene.

Station manager Jang Myong-Jim told reporters that preparations were on track and fueling would begin soon, without giving exact timings.

Jang Myong-Jim said the 100 kg (220 pound) satellite is designed to send back images and information that will be used for weather forecasts as well as surveys of North Korea’s natural resources, the AP reports.

Pyongyang has previously said the launch, for “peaceful purposes”, is to mark the centennial of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-Sung.

But the United States and North Korea’s neighbors say it contravenes UN resolutions that were imposed after a similar launch in April 2009.

Japan and South Korea have warned they will shoot the rocket down if it strays into their territory.


The United States has confirmed the decision to put on hold planned food aid to North Korea.

The decision comes after Pyongyang announced a new rocket launch, which the US says breaks the terms of a deal agreed last month.

Earlier reports that the food aid plans had been suspended were confirmed by a Pentagon official on Wednesday.

Peter Lavoy told lawmakers North Korea had violated a missile test moratorium agreement and could not be trusted to deliver the aid properly.

Under the deal signed in February, North Korea agreed to a partial freeze in nuclear activities and a missile test moratorium in return for US food aid.

Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, told a government committee that next month’s planned rocket launch “reflects [North Korea’s] lack of desire to follow through on their international commitments and so we’ve been forced to suspend our activities to provide nutritional assistance”.

The United States has confirmed the decision to put on hold planned food aid to North Korea

The United States has confirmed the decision to put on hold planned food aid to North Korea

North Korea claims the launch – which is scheduled for between April 12-16 – is only a satellite and is for scientific purposes.

But the US and North Korea’s neighbors insist it will be a long-range missile test, breaking the terms of last month’s agreement.

The US has not delivered food aid to North Korea since 2009, but sent officials to Pyongyang’s ally China earlier this month to finalize plans to re-start food deliveries.

North Korea has suffered persistent food shortages since a famine in the 1990s, and relies on foreign aid to feed its people.

The planned 240,000 tons of food aid from the US was to go to children and pregnant women.