EU imposes new set of sanctions on Iran

European governments imposed new financial sanctions on Iran, inching beyond measures laid down in a United Nations resolution that punishes Iran's pursuit of a nuclear capability.

Spurred by President Bush, the European Union agreed to exercise “restraint” on new government backing for trade with Iran, going beyond the call for “vigilance” made by the U.N. Security Council in a resolution in March.

EU governments “shall exercise restraint in entering into new commitments for public provided financial support for trade with Iran, including the granting of export credits, guarantees or insurance,” the 27-nation bloc said in a statement on its Web site in Brussels early today.

The European step is a prelude to a new U.N. showdown in which the U.S. and its European allies try to overcome Russian and Chinese resistance to a further ratcheting up of sanctions against Iran.

The EU said it has begun enforcing the third set of U.N. sanctions, passed in March, that restrict public loans to support trade with Iran and mandate tougher inspection of cargo.

The EU will “exercise vigilance” over transactions between European banks and Iran's Bank Saderat, today's statement said. EU governments also pledged not to offer any financial aid to the Iranian government, except for “humanitarian and developmental purposes.”

The U.S. began the drive for a fourth set of sanctions this week after Iran refused to freeze its nuclear program at current levels in exchange for a Western offer of economic incentives and technological expertise.

International pressure has targeted Iran's enrichment of uranium, which can have civilian and military uses. Iran says its program is for civilian electricity generation and denies U.S. suspicions that it wants to build a bomb.