France urges EU to impose sanctions on Iran over Syria role
Penalties designed to convince US to stay in nuclear deal with Tehran
France urged the European Union on Monday to consider new sanctions on Iran over its involvement in Syria's civil war and its ballistic missile programme, measures intended to persuade US President Donald Trump to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
Mr Trump has given the European signatories a May 12 deadline to "fix the terrible flaws" of the deal, agreed under his predecessor Barack Obama, or he will refuse to extend American sanctions relief.
In response, France, Britain and Germany have proposed new EU sanctions targeting Iranians who support Syria's government in that country's civil war and Tehran's ballistic missile programme, according to a confidential document seen by Reuters.
"We are determined to ensure that the Vienna accord is respected," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters on arrival for talks with his EU counterparts, referring to the city where the 2015 deal was signed.
"But we must not exclude (from consideration) Iran's responsibility in the proliferation of ballistic missiles and in its very questionable role in the near- and Middle East," he said. "That must also be discussed to reach a common position."
The confidential document cites "transfers of Iranian missiles and missile technology" to Syria and allies of Tehran, such as Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah.
Any EU-wide measures would be the first significant punitive steps since the bloc lifted broad economic sanctions on Iran last year following the 2015 accord to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions for at least a decade.
But new sanctions would need the support of all 28 EU member states. Some of them are keen to rebuild a business relationship that once made the EU Iran's top trading partner and its second-biggest oil customer.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who chaired the final stages of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, stressed that there was no formal EU position on new sanctions.
"We'll discuss ways in which we can keep the full implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran," Mogherini said of the EU strategy so far. "There's no proposal of additional sanctions against Iran."
The European step came hours after Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he expects President Donald Trump to pull out of the Iran deal in May.
Mr Corker, who opposed the nuclear agreement but backed legislation that the Trump White House says helped it pass Congress, told CBS' "Face the Nation" the deal seemed to be on borrowed time.
"The Iran deal will be another issue that's coming up in May, and right now it doesn't feel like it's going to be extended," Mr Corker said in an interview broadcast Sunday.
"The president likely will move away from it unless my, our European counterparts really come together on a framework. And it doesn't feel to me that they are."
Asked if he believed Trump would pull out on May 12, Mr Corker responded, "I do. I do."
Mr Corker, a senior Republican, has frequently clashed with Mr Trump, describing the current White House as "an adult day care centre".
Updated: March 19, 2018 05:45 PM