PAPHOS, Cyprus — Foreign Secretary William Hague urged the European Union on Friday to step up the pressure on Iran over its controversial nuclear drive by beefing up sanctions.
"It is necessary to increase the pressure on Iran, to intensify sanctions, to add further to the EU sanctions," Hague said in reference to Iran, as he joined his 26 EU colleagues for two days of informal talks in Cyprus also expected to focus on the conflict in Syria.
Hague said EU sanctions were having "a serious impact" on Iran.
The last such round, a damaging oil embargo, came into effect on July 1, adding to US financial sanctions aimed at shutting off Iran's oil exports, which account for half of government revenues.
Hague said it was vital that Tehran's controversial nuclear programme be "confronted and dealt with, but far better to do so in a peaceful way through sanctions but also negotiations."
Ministers will be briefed during the on the state of play of months of negotiations with Iran led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on behalf of the major powers.
Ashton had been expected to hold a new set of talks around the end of August with lead Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, but there has been no sign of fresh negotiations despite increasing talk in Israel of the possibility of pre-emptive military action against Iranian nuclear facilities.
"I have urged Iran to look very carefully at the proposals that have been put forward," Ashton said. "I will be briefing the ministers later about what I think we should be doing next."
Britain will urge EU governments to agree a new round of sanctions -- targeting the energy sector and trade -- at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers in mid-October, a diplomatic source told AFP.
"I call on the Iranian side to take stock of the seriousness of the situation. We will not accept discussions and negotiations that serve only to gain time," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
Iran must make "substantial" proposals, give access to all its installations to international inspectors and renounce once and for all nuclear armament, he added.
Iran insists that its nuclear programme is for peaceful power generation and medical purposes only and that it has a right to uranium enrichment under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has called for Western sanctions on its economy to be eased.
The so-called P5+1 group which Ashton represents -- made up of the UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany -- has told Iran to immediately stop enriching uranium to 20 percent level, to ship out its existing 20 percent stocks and to shut down a fortified underground enrichment facility.
Analysts say enrichment to 20 percent is a key step towards the 90 percent level required for an atomic bomb.
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