EU imposes sanctions on Iran over embassy storming

British Foreign Minister William Hague at the EU meeting in Brussels

Story highlights

  • The White House welcomes EU sanctions against 180 Iranian firms and individuals
  • Italy says it will pull its ambassador out of Tehran for consultations
  • The EU Foreign Affairs Council says it takes the attack as one against all its members
  • Student protesters stormed two British diplomatic sites in Tehran on Tuesday
Europe ramped up pressure on Iran Thursday, with the European Union agreeing on new sanctions and Italy withdrawing its ambassador from Tehran after protesters attacked the British Embassy there earlier this week.
The Italian envoy was "recalled for consultations," the Foreign Ministry said, adding that the decision was "coordinated with the other countries at the EU meeting in Brussels."
France, Germany and the Netherlands said Wednesday they were also pulling their envoys out of Tehran.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Thursday agreed on new sanctions that apply to 143 entities and 37 individuals, said Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
The ministers also agreed to continue working on extra punitive measures that could target Iran's financial, transport and energy sectors, Kocijancic said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney welcomed the announcement of additional sanctions on Iran, saying it signaled the international community's resolve to address "the continued failure of the Iranian regime to meet its international obligations."
Hundreds of Iranian student protesters stormed the embassy and another British diplomatic compound Tuesday, prompting wide outrage in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Under international law, the buildings should have been guarded by Iranian security officers, the British government said.
Britain closed its embassy in Iran and evacuated its entire diplomatic staff from that country Wednesday in response to the incident.
Foreign Secretary William Hague also ordered the Iranian Embassy in London to close immediately, with its staff given 48 hours to leave.
Norway reopened its embassy in Iran Thursday and resumed normal operations there, a day after closing over security concerns, Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hilde Steinfeld told CNN.
Norway currently has no plans to recall its ambassador, she added.
Speaking at the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting Thursday in Brussels, Ashton said there was a lot of solidarity with Britain among the foreign ministers gathered there.
"We were all extremely shocked to see what happened to the embassy in Tehran," she said in a statement.
"This is completely inappropriate; it is for the authorities in Tehran to protect the diplomats who serve their country in Tehran. That message has gone out very clearly."
The protesters in Tehran were demanding that the British ambassador be sent home immediately.
The rally began quietly outside the embassy, but some participants stormed the building, breaking down the door. Hague has said they vandalized and looted the homes of staff members and the ambassador's residence, destroyed furniture, stole property and set fire to the main embassy office building.
The demonstration followed a decision by the Iranian Parliament on Sunday to expel the British ambassador and reduce diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom in retaliation for its new sanctions against Iran.
A statement from the council said it was outraged by the embassy attack and condemned it as a violation of the Vienna Convention.
"It also deplores the decision to expel the British ambassador from Tehran," the statement said. "The Council considers these actions against the UK as actions against the European Union as a whole. The EU is taking appropriate measures in response."
Iran's Foreign Ministry expressed its regret for the student protest and said action would be taken through legal channels.
Britain cut all financial ties with Iran last week over concerns about its nuclear program, the first time it has cut an entire country's banking sector off from British finance.
The move came after an International Atomic Energy Agency report highlighted new concerns about "the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program," a British Treasury statement said last week.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and has called the U.N. watchdog's report "unbalanced" and "politically motivated."
The EU Foreign Affairs Council backed the IAEA's conclusions Thursday and reiterated its "serious and deepening concerns over the nature of Iran's nuclear programme, and in particular over the findings on Iranian activities relating to the development of military nuclear technology."
Also Thursday, officials from the U.S. State Department and Treasury told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that the Obama administration could consider supporting further action targeting Iran's central bank. However, the officials cautioned about the risk of doing so.
The U.S. Senate could vote as soon as Thursday on a bill by Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois that would cut off Iran from global finance by freezing U.S.-assets of any institution that does business with Iran's central bank.
The Obama administration opposes the measure because of its possible impact on the oil supply and, ultimately, the U.S. and international economy.
"There is absolutely a risk that in fact the price of oil would go up, which would mean that Iran would in fact have more money to fuel its nuclear ambitions, not less," said Wendy Sherman, the State Department's undersecretary for political affairs.