EU to leave door open to further Iran sanctions

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BRUSSELS, Oct 11 (Reuters) European Union foreign ministers will warn Iran next week that it faces tougher sanctions unless it halts nuclear activities the West suspects are aimed at making atomic bombs, diplomats said today.

However, a draft ministerial statement agreed by EU ambassadors avoids responding directly to a French proposal for EU states to consider their own sanctions without waiting for the UN to act again. The proposal has divided EU members.

The EU would ''consider what additional measures it might take in order to support the UN process and the shared objectives of the international community,'' the draft said.

It said ministers, who meet next Monday and Tuesday, would ask experts to ''provide timely advice'' on possible further sanctions.

Big powers agreed to delay further UN sanctions at least until November pending further mediation and a report by the EU negotiator, foreign policy chief Javier Solana, on talks meant to nudge Iran towards a suspension.

Senior officials from six world powers will hold their next meeting in Berlin on Wednesday to discuss the showdown with Iran, a diplomat said.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington yesterday that the meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany would discuss the language of a new UN sanctions resolution.

The Security Council has already agreed on two rounds of penalties for Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, which the West fears Tehran intends to use for atomic weapons.

Iran says its nuclear programme is aimed only at generating electricity.

Russia and China, which like the United States, Britain and France are permanent, veto-wielding members of the Security Council, oppose a third sanctions resolution against Iran.

FRENCH PROPOSAL France urged the EU last week to take the lead in widening financial sanctions, saying the world could not afford to wait for UN action to rein in Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

EU diplomats said the draft avoided addressing the French proposal directly, as some EU states were reluctant to follow it. ''It's a constructive ambiguity,'' one said.

Austria, as well as Italy and Germany, important trade partners for Iran, have opposed the French proposal.

Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi said last week that sanctions should be decided at the United Nations and that he did not favour a tightening of measures for the moment.

Diplomats said further sanctions could include broadening existing visa bans and asset freezes or expanding the measures to ban export credit guarantees and investment in some sectors.

''The aim would be not to expand sanctions at all costs but to keep calibrated pressure on the Iranian regime to make them think hard about the direction they are taking,'' one said.

Reuters DKS VP0222

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