European Union nations brandished the threat of new international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme this weekend, as Canada closed its embassy in Tehran and ordered the expulsion of Iranian diplomats from Ottawa.
Speaking on the second day of a two-day EU foreign ministers meeting in Cyprus, EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton called on Tehran to prove its claim that Iran’s uranium-enrichment programme is peaceful and is not aimed at building nuclear weapons. ‘I urge Iran to seriously look at the proposals that have been put forward and to engage with us to recognise, as they keep saying, they want to be clear that they do not seek a military option in terms of their nuclear programme — and to demonstrate the truly peaceful nature of that programme by all that they do,’ Ashton said.
Ashton added that she would continue diplomatic efforts, through the United Nations, to ensure that Iran complies with its obligation to cooperate fully with the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
With frustration mounting over the lack of progress in talks between global powers and Iran, German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, noted that Tehran has made no ‘substantial offer’ to reassure the world of its nuclear intentions. ‘Therefore we must prepare new sanctions,’ he said at the closing of the two-day talks. ‘Atomic weapons in Iran are not acceptable,’ Westerwelle added.
For his part, Foreign Secretary William Hague said existing sanctions were having ‘a serious impact’, but that it was ‘necessary to increase the pressure on Iran, to intensify sanctions, [and] to add further to the EU sanctions.’
Italy’s Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant’agata said the EU was concerned ‘about the security of our citizens in the face of the potential threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.’
Talk of exploring new punitive measures comes amid growing impatience over the lack of progress in months of negotiations with Iran led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on behalf of the major powers.
In other Iran related news, the Canadian government announced this weekend that it had cut ties with the governments of Iran and Syria – shutting down its embassy in Tehran. Ottawa also gave Iranian diplomats in Canada five days to leave the country, branding the Islamic Republic the ‘most significant threat to global peace and security’.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird, accused Iran of providing military assistance to the Assad regime in Syria, noted that Tehran had failed to comply with UN resolutions regarding its nuclear programme, and ‘materially’ supports terrorist groups. Baird also said Iran ‘routinely’ threatens the existence of Israel, engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide, and called the country ‘among the world’s worst violators of human rights.’
The closure of Ottawa’s Tehran mission represents the most significant incident between Iran and another country since the ransacking of the British Embassy in November 2011.