IRAN-EUROPE-FRANCE:France: Europe must agree Iran sanctions by end-Jan
PARIS (Reuters) - France urged its European partners on Tuesday to follow the U.S. lead and agree by the end of this month to impose an embargo on Iranian oil exports and freeze Iranian central bank assets, as tension with Tehran escalates.
Speaking ahead of a January 30 EU foreign ministers' meeting, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said it was time to toughen sanctions along the lines President Nicolas Sarkozy had proposed in late November.
"France ... wants sanctions toughened and the president (Sarkozy) has made two concrete proposals on that front -- the first being the freezing of Iranian central bank assets, a tough measure, and the second an embargo on Iranian oil exports," Juppe told i>tele, a French news TV channel.
Washington is already in the process of imposing such sanctions, he said. "We want the Europeans to take a similar step by January 30 to show our determination," he said.
Iran, which denies Western accusations that it is trying to build atomic bombs, said on Monday that it had test fired two long-range missiles, flexing its military muscle in the face of mounting Western pressure over its nuclear programme.
It made the announcement at the climax of 10 days of naval exercises in the Gulf, during which Tehran warned it could shut the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's traded oil is shipped, if sanctions were imposed on its crude exports.
U.S. President Barack Obama signed new sanctions against Iran into law on Saturday.
"These will be European and American sanctions as we have the capacity to act in this domain," Juppe said.
If enforced strictly, the sanctions could make it nearly impossible for most refiners to buy crude from Iran, the world's fourth biggest producer.
The United Nations Security Council has already imposed four rounds of global sanctions on Iran over its refusal to halt sensitive nuclear activities.
Iran has so far shown no willingness to change its nuclear course but Iranian media reported on Saturday that nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili would write to the EU foreign policy chief to say Tehran was ready for fresh talks on its nuclear programme.
Talks between Iran and six world powers - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - are in stalemate.
French, British and U.S. pressure on Tehran was ramped up after the International Atomic Energy Agency voiced new concerns in late November about Iran's nuclear programme.
The reluctance of Moscow and Beijing to further punish Iran has obliged Western states to act on their own, outside the United Nations framework.
(Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Tim Pearce)