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European Union Finalizes Iran Atomic Penalties

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton speaks to reporters as she arrives for a meeting of top EU nation diplomats in Luxembourg on Monday. Participants in the gathering signed off on a new package of sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran to address international concerns over its nuclear program (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo). European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton speaks to reporters as she arrives for a meeting of top EU nation diplomats in Luxembourg on Monday. Participants in the gathering signed off on a new package of sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran to address international concerns over its nuclear program (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo).

Pressuring Iran to allow greater global oversight of its atomic operations and avoiding a potential armed clash were aims for a new raft of economic restrictions finalized by the European Union on Monday, Bloomberg reported.

European powers, the United States and Israel believe Iran's atomic activities are geared toward establishment of a nuclear-weapon capability; Tehran has maintained its nuclear ambitions are strictly nonmilitary in nature.

"Iran is acting in flagrant violation of its international obligations and continues to refuse to fully cooperate with the IAEA," the Los Angeles Times quoted EU officials as saying in a collective statement. "Today's decisions (on sanctions) target Iran's nuclear and ballistic [missile] program and the revenues of the Iranian government for these programs. ... The sanctions are not aimed at the Iranian people."

In a bid to prevent EU firms from handling funds in support of Iran's nuclear activities, the punitive measures ban business between Iranian and European financial institutions, with the exception of dealings “explicitly authorized in advance by national authorities under strict conditions,” Bloomberg quoted an EU release as saying. The Iranian central bank was also subject to new European penalties.

The measure includes a ban on selling Iran goods that have nuclear applications -- including graphite, steel, aluminum and computer programs for manufacturing operations -- and it expands restrictions on providing the country with technology for operations related to petroleum, gas and oil derivatives. The plan also bars natural gas purchases from the Persian Gulf regional power.

Humanitarian concerns previously prompted the European Union to limit Iran penalties largely to measures against specific organizations and individuals, Reuters reported on Monday. The 27-nation bloc in July instituted a ban on purchases of petroleum from the Middle Eastern nation.

The EU release adds that the move freezes holdings for 34 targets giving “substantial financial support to the Iranian government” and an individual linked to the nation's atomic efforts, Bloomberg reported.

The moves were also expected to prohibit individuals and firms in the European Union from reflagging Iranian petroleum transfer vessels and shipments at any location, the Wall Street Journal on Monday quoted an EU international relations official as saying. In the United States, House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and other lawmakers are weighing possible moves aimed at preventing Tehran from re-registering vessels in a bid to circumvent penalties, according to a legislative insider.

The staffer said one potential step would "deny access to the U.S. to vessels from a registry that is abetting Iran," and comparable penalties could cover insurance firms and "classification societies."

The International Energy Agency on Friday said Iran's petroleum output last month hit its lowest point since 1988, the New York Times reported. The nation's petroleum generation capacity would probably decline in coming years should Western economic penalties remain in place, according to the organization.

"Iran's oil exports are the same as previous months and the situation is stable," Mohammad Ali Khatibi, Iran's representative to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, said in comments reported by the Tehran Times on Saturday.

The European Union's senior-most diplomat said “it’s very, very important that Iran is sent a very strong signal,” Bloomberg reported.

We want to see a negotiated agreement,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added.

High-level Iranian diplomats have met with counterparts from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States on three occasions this year in a bid to address international concerns over Tehran's atomic aims.

"I absolutely do think there is room for negotiations," said Ashton, who has communicated with Tehran on behalf of the six governments. "I hope we will be able to make progress very soon," Reuters quoted her as saying.

Communications with Iranian government personnel have remained constant following the most recent discussions several months ago, and indications have emerged of “tension within the Iranian regime” over the nation's atomic activities, a Western international relations insider said to NBC News on Friday.

"We’ve picked up some small signs of wavering on the nuclear policy," said the source. "But I don’t want to exaggerate it."

“No sign" suggests "Iran is prepared to move,” necessitating further punitive economic steps, the insider said.

Berlin's top envoy said "Iran is still playing for time," Reuters reported.

"We don't see a sufficient readiness for substantial talks about the nuclear program," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle added.

Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Ministry on Saturday said Tehran "is ready to show flexibility to remove [nuclear] concerns within a legal framework but such measures should be reciprocal," the Associated Press reported.

"The other party needs to take measures to fully recognize Iran’s nuclear rights and Iran’s enrichment for peaceful purposes," spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in comments reported by the Islamic Republic News Agency.

“If a guarantee is provided to supply the 20 percent (enriched uranium) fuel for Tehran Research Reactor, our officials are ready to enter talks about the 20 percent enrichment (of uranium),” Iran's Press TV quoted him as saying on Friday.

Washington and other governments fear Iran's stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium could enable faster preparation of bomb-capable material with an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent. Iran has said the higher-enriched material is intended to fuel the medical reactor in Tehran.

Iran's supreme religious leader, though, issued defiant remarks during an address on Saturday, the Associated Press reported.

"We should not neglect the enemy. The enemy enters through various ways. One day it's talk of sanctions. Another day it's talk of military aggression. And one day, it's talk of soft war ... We have to be vigilant," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said. "But they should rest assured that ... our enemies will fail in all their conspiracies and tricks."

"We should choose what we consume from among our own products. That some are always after foreign brands and names is wrong," Khamenei added. "Domestic consumption increases domestic production. When domestic production is increased, it will tackle unemployment and reduces inflation. These are all connected to each other."

Iranian measures announced on Sunday would seek to reduce unneeded purchases from abroad, the Washington Post reported.

Elsewhere, a classified assessment indicates Tehran could dump a massive amount of petroleum in the Strait of Hormuz in a bid to temporarily prevent passage through the strategic waterway and force the elimination of Western economic penalties, Der Spiegel reported on Monday. Some Iranian officials and lawmakers have said the strait could be blocked in response to nuclear sanctions against their country.

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