EU leaders vow to impose tougher sanctions on Iran as Ukraine pleads for support

18 April 2024, 08:44

Belgium EU Summit
Belgium EU Summit. Picture: PA

It comes as concern grows that Tehran’s unprecedented attack on Israel could fuel a wider war in the Middle East.

European Union leaders have vowed to ramp up sanctions against Iran as concern grows that Tehran’s unprecedented attack on Israel could fuel a wider war in the Middle East.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky used the summit on Wednesday to remind the leaders that his country still badly needs support to combat Russia’s invasion.

The EU has already slapped sanctions on the Islamic Republic, but French President Emmanuel Macron said new measures should target “those who are helping to produce the missiles and drones that were used” in the weekend attack.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels
Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels (Omar Havana/AP)

In a statement released after the first day of their summit, which also focused on the war in Ukraine and ways to boost the bloc’s economic competitiveness, the leaders warned that the EU “will take further restrictive measures against Iran, notably in relation to unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles”.

The statement also called “on Iran and its proxies to cease all attacks” – and urged all sides to exercise “utmost restraint and to refrain from any action that may increase tensions in the region”.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has tasked his staff with drawing up new measures but expanding sanctions, however, it is not a simple step — the EU has already targeted those responsible for making drones that Iran has sold to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine.

The idea is to expand that list to include missiles, although there is no evidence that Iran has sold missiles to Russia.

Mr Borrell said that proxy forces backed by Iran in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria could also be targeted with sanctions.

Some seek sanctions on those providing Iran with the components to make drones, measures already approved in July 2023.

Belgium EU Summit
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, speaks with Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez during a reception at the Royal Palace prior to an EU summit (Olivier Hoslet/AP)

Mr Borrell said his team would look at whether to expand the list of components, or develop ways to stop the sanctions from being circumvented.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said his position is that the “Iranian Revolutionary Guard should be put on the sanctions list” and that this “would be a very important signal”.

But that would pose legal challenges. Mr Borrell said an EU member country would have to provide evidence that the Revolutionary Guard has been involved in acts of terrorism against it — something that none have so far claimed.

The US is also preparing new sanctions targeting Iran’s missile and drone programme and entities supporting the Revolutionary Guard and Iran’s Defence Ministry, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

The EU leaders also renewed their call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and the release of hostages, as well as the provision of “full, rapid, safe and unhindered access to humanitarian aid at scale for Palestinians in need”.

Russia’s two-year war in Ukraine was also on the agenda, with Mr Zelensky addressing the Brussels summit remotely and repeating an appeal for more air defences, including Patriot missile systems.

Belgium EU Summit
Slovenia’s Prime Minister Robert Golob, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Romania’s President Klaus Werner Ioannis (Omar Havana/AP)

“They are needed in Ukraine right now, needed to stop (Russian President Vladimir) Putin from relying on terrorist methods,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the EU.

Mr Zelensky also asked for more “weapons for our soldiers” and “shells for artillery. Vehicles. Drones. Everything that helps to hold the front line”.

By Press Association

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