BRUSSELS, Belgium – European Union foreign ministers approved plans Monday for implementing U.N. sanctions against Iran, a move that is meant to punish Tehran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
The United Nations Security Council agreed in December to impose sanctions targeting people and programs linked to Iran's nuclear program, which the EU and others fear is geared toward making weapons.
The council also gave Iran two months to return to negotiations. Talks collapsed a year ago over Tehran's refusal to suspend enrichment, a potential pathway to developing nuclear arms.
In the first negotiations since then, EU officials met Sunday in Munich, Germany, with Iran's top national security official Ali Larijani.
"It was a good meeting, but Iran knows what is our position," said Javier Solana, the EU's foreign police chief. "We are open to negotiation, but Iran knows what we want them to do."
Monday's decision means that all 27 EU governments will implement regulations imposing the U.N. sanctions, which include a ban on selling materials and technology that could be used in Iran's nuclear and missile programs and a freeze on the assets of 10 Iranian companies and individuals.
A dispute between Spain and Britain over how the disputed territory of Gibraltar would implement the sanctions had held up the deal.
The U.N. Security Council imposed limited sanctions to punish Iran for defying a resolution demanding that it suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce material to fuel nuclear reactors or to build bombs.
The EU already has in place a de-facto 10-year ban on the sale of weapons to Iran. Its foreign ministers reiterated that a package of economic incentives remains on offer if Tehran abandons nuclear enrichment.
Monday's decision on the U.N. sanctions does not go far enough for Washington however, which has called on Europe to follow the U.S. in cutting trade ties with Tehran. Diplomats in Brussels said EU governments are free to go beyond the U.N. sanctions if they wish.
EU nations have long been divided over whether to cut trade ties with Iran, especially when many of them are eager to keep investments in Iran's lucrative oil and gas sector.
In Munich, Larijani said Iran was ready to restart negotiations but said it would not suspend its nuclear program as a precondition for talks.
The head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, on Sunday welcomed Iran's willingness to resume negotiations with the West on its uranium enrichment plans, but called for nothing short of "full transparency" on Iran's part.
"I still hope that they will try through dialogue to create the conditions to go back into negotiations," ElBaradei told AP Television News.