LUXEMBOURG – The European Union, concerned by what it called Iran's refusal to come clean on its nuclear program, imposed a new range of sanctions Monday intended to hit the country's treasury and increase pressure on its Islamic regime.
A leading European satellite provider, meanwhile, took 19 Iranian television and radio broadcasters off the air Monday — a cutoff due to earlier sanctions. The move prompted accusations of censorship and threats to sue from Iranian state television.
Foreign ministers from the 27 EU member countries, meeting in Luxembourg, said Iran was "acting in flagrant violation of its international obligations" and was still refusing to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency to address international concerns.
Many countries fear that Iran is working to develop nuclear weapons but Iranian officials say the country's nuclear program is intended solely for peaceful purposes.
A statement by the EU foreign ministers said they had approved "additional restrictive measures in the financial, trade, energy and transport sectors" against Iran as well as imposing asset freezes and trade restrictions on more companies, notably those "active in the oil and gas industry."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the ministers had banned the import of Iranian natural gas into EU nations.
The EU ministers also agreed to prohibit all transactions between EU and Iranian banks unless they were authorized in advance for humanitarian reasons and tightened restrictions on the Central Bank of Iran, according to the statement said.
They imposed more export restrictions "notably for graphite, metals, software for industrial purposes, as well as measures related to the shipbuilding industry."
Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the Iranian Resistance — a group that seeks the Iran's regime's ouster — welcomed the decision to expand sanctions as "an essential step to preclude this regime from acquiring nuclear weapons." She asked the EU to sever all economic and commercial relations with the religious fascism ruling Iran.
An affiliated group, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, said it had learned from people inside the country that the Iranian government was using banks' money-changing operations as well as divisions of the National Iranian Oil Company to get around the sanctions against oil exports.
On the broadcasting cutoff, people in Iran still have access to most of the channels, which are operated by the Iranian state broadcaster Irib, but they're no longer broadcast in Europe and elsewhere.
Satellite provider Eutelsat agreed with media services company Arqiva to block Irib's nine TV channels and 10 radio stations as of Monday morning because of "reinforced EU council sanctions," Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O'Connor said. Irib's access to Eutelsat was via a contract with Arqiva.
Irib's chief was among those targeted in a round of EU sanctions against Iran adopted in March, based on what European officials said were human rights violations in its programming.
Eutelsat would not comment on the financial consequences of the cutoff.
Iran's state-run Press TV said Irib could take legal action against Eutelsat over the cutoff "to compensate for any material and spiritual damages."
Press TV says it was among the channels cut by the Eutelsat decision. Others include Farsi-language channels for Iranian expatriates and Arabic-language offerings, including the news channel Al-Alam.
In a statement, Press TV said the move "shows that the European Union does not respect freedom of speech and ... is a step to mute all alternative news outlets representing the voice of the voiceless."
On his way into Monday's meeting, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said new sanctions would be "a sign of our resolve in the European Union that we will step up the pressure."
Hague said such pressure would continue to mount "over the coming months unless negotiations succeed. We remain open of course to success of negotiations."
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report. Don Melvin can be reached at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin .