European foreign ministers meet to discuss tougher sanctions against Iran

IRGC terrorist listing discussed as suppliers of Iran's proxies, including Hezbollah and Hamas, are targeted

Iranian women at an anti-Israel rally in Tehran last week. EPA
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European foreign ministers on Monday said they would toughen sanctions against Iran, with the measures possibly including a "symbolic" listing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation.

The move comes after Iran's unprecedented launch of hundreds of drones and missiles towards Israel on April 13 as the two countries engage in tit-for-tat attacks in what many European diplomats fear might boil over into an all-out regional war.

The EU wants to send a strong signal of support to Israel while also broadening its sanctions against Iran to people and companies involved in supplying drones, missiles and components, to proxies in the region such as Lebanon's Hezbollah.

"I want to emphasise – since you asked about proxies – that they should be included in such a scheme," Sweden's Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told The National as he entered a meeting of the bloc's 27 foreign and defence ministers in Luxembourg.

"Iran has been supporting the Houthis, Hezbollah and Hamas and has been a malign influence in the region. From our perspective, it needs to pull back," said his Irish counterpart Micheal Martin.

The new sanctions would not involve additional sanctions on the groups themselves, which are already listed in whole or in part on the EU's terrorism list, but would target their suppliers in Iran.

The EU has for months been looking into sanctioning Iran for sending missiles to Russia to use against Ukraine but so far officials said there was no proof of such transfers.

But Iran's attack against Israel, in which drones and missiles were used, was a game-changer for the bloc.

I believe that if the step is possible, then we should consider it
Austria's Alexander Schallenberg on proscribing the IRGC

EU countries strongly condemned the attack, saying Iran was risking a regional war. They stayed clear of commenting on Israel's reported killing of seven Iranian officials in their consulate in Damascus in a missile strike on April 1.

Some countries such as Germany say they do not have enough information on the attack to comment.

The EU's External Action Service, which is headed by foreign affairs minister Josep Borrell, did issue a statement at the time condemning the Israeli bombing.

Speaking in Luxembourg, Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that because Iranian missiles had been used against Israel, the EU should limit the transfer of components used to build those missiles.

In February a group of nine countries, including Germany, France, the Netherlands and Lithuania, requested the expansion of existing sanctions against Iran's drone and missile industry.

The EEAS has been working on the request, but in private some diplomats have complained that progress has been too slow.

Many believe the EEAS fears endangering talks over Iran's nuclear programme, which are mediated by Mr Borrell.

Speaking before Monday's meeting, an EU official dismissed that criticism, saying there had been a lack of agreement among member states.

The EU has also maintained UN sanctions against Iran's ballistic missiles after they expired in October. "We are now thinking of introducing names and entities," said the EU official.

Several foreign ministers on Monday argued that nuclear negotiations were close to non-existent due to Iranian obstruction.

"Look, I’m one of those people who don’t believe that the JCPOA has a future," Mr Landsbergis said, referring to the now-defunct Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was abandoned by the Trump administration in 2018.

His Austrian counterpart, Alexander Schallenberg, compared Iran's nuclear ambitions to a "black box".

"We can no longer really see internationally what has happened there. No information, no trust," Mr Schallenberg said.

Austria houses the International Atomic Energy Agency in its capital Vienna, in addition to acting as a hub for diplomatic talks on Iran's nuclear activities.

Questioned by The National, Mr Borrell said "the nuclear programme of Iran is not on the table today", without providing further details.

Ministers also said they would step up efforts to find a legal pathway to listing the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. This would require a legal decision from an EU court that is less than five years old.

Germany recently transferred information regarding a 2022 attack against a synagogue involving Iran to the EU legal services for examination.

The IRGC is already listed by the EU under several sanctions' frameworks, including human rights.

"This is really something that is a symbolic act," said Mr Schallenberg. "We just haven't declared them terrorist organisations yet. But I believe that if the step is possible, then we should consider it."

Updated: April 23, 2024, 5:42 AM