France’s Fabius: EU to Discuss if New Iran Sanctions Needed

ABU DHABI (Reuters) -

The European Union will discuss this week whether it needs to impose new sanctions on Iran following recent ballistic missile tests, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Monday, a day after the United States announced such measures.

Washington imposed sanctions on 11 companies and individuals on Sunday for supplying Iran’s ballistic missile program, in a move delayed by over two weeks so as not to endanger this weekend’s release of U.S. prisoners.

“We have to compare the American system and European system and to see if there are new sanctions to take or not, and this exercise will be implemented this week,” Fabius told reporters during a visit to Abu Dhabi.

Iran tested a new medium-range ballistic missile on Nov. 21 in a breach of two U.N. Security Council resolutions, two U.S. officials said on Monday, the second since October.

The U.S. measures come after the lifting of international sanctions over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. During talks leading up to the deal which ended those sanctions, France was deemed to hold the toughest stance against Iran.

Fabius, who said he would visit Riyadh on Tuesday to meet King Salman and other officials, also added France would like to de-escalate tensions between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“Our view as France is to try to de-escalate pressure,” he said, adding France would also discuss different issues with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who is due to visit Paris next week.

The crisis between the conservative Sunni kingdom and Shi’ite power Iran, both major oil exporters, escalated when Saudi Arabia executed Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Jan. 2, triggering anger among Shi’ites across the Middle East.

In Iran, protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, prompting Riyadh to sever relations. Tehran cut all commercial ties with Riyadh, and banned pilgrims from travelling to Mecca.

Fabius also said that it was not yet possible to confirm that a planned U.N.-organized Jan. 25 peace meeting on Syria would take place involving the Syrian government and opposition, saying that it was up to the United Nations to confirm it.

“Obviously we hope the negotiations will take place but there are some questions which have to be answered,” he said.

This included confidence-building measures such as a halt to the sieges of Syrian cities and bombing of civilians, he said.

“It would be very difficult for the moderate opposition to participate in the negotiations in the very moment when they are bombed,” he said.

The Syrian opposition council established last month to oversee the negotiations is expected to take its position on the Jan. 25 meeting during a meeting in Riyadh this week, opposition officials said.

George Sabra, a member of the body formed to oversee negotiations, said the Jan. 25 date for the Geneva talk was not a practical one. “I think a decision should be made in the next three days,” he told Reuters.

Asked about the biggest obstacles to negotiations, he said: “Shelling people in cities and shelling by Russian and (Syrian) regime air forces. And a big problem is the sieges – people are dying.”

A second opposition official also said he doubted talks would go ahead on Jan. 25. “We are aiming for negotiations that would be successful. We don’t want negotiations like 2014,” he said, referring to two rounds of talks in Geneva two years ago which broke down. He declined to be identified because he is not a spokesman for the opposition.