BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers on Monday endorsed a French government decision to sanction Iranian nationals accused of a bomb plot in France, potentially allowing the measures to take effect across the bloc, three diplomats said.
The ministers said technical work could now start on an EU-wide asset freeze on two Iranians and the Iranian intelligence service over a failed plot to carry out a bomb attack at a rally near Paris organized by an exiled Iranian opposition group.
Denmark, which in October said it suspected an Iranian government intelligence service had tried to carry out an assassination plot on its soil, also pushed for support for similar EU-wide sanctions once its investigation is complete, the diplomats told Reuters.
Though largely symbolic, the EU’s readiness to target Iranians marks a shift after months of division within the bloc over how to punish Iranians accused of destabilizing activities in Europe and the Middle East.
Eager to save a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran from which the United States has withdrawn, the EU has focused its efforts in trying to keep trade flowing with Iran in the face of renewed U.S. sanctions, in order to keep Tehran from pulling out.
In an effort to balance their Iran policy, ministers also discussed setting up a special mechanism to trade with Iran that would be under EU, not national, law. They believe this formula could shield individual member states from being hit by U.S. sanctions that have been reimposed on trade with Iran after Washington’s pullout from the nuclear deal.
In March, Britain, France and Germany proposed to sanction Iran over its development of ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, but the initiative failed to gather sufficient support across the EU to take effect.
Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Mark Heinrich