The European Union and Canada on Monday separately adopted new sanctions against Iran, targeting the country's foreign trade, banking and energy sectors.
The moves are the latest in a series of measures taken by the international community in an effort to halt Iran's nuclear program. The EU's measures, which leaders agreed to in principle in June, also blacklist Iran's shipping and air cargo companies.
In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast denounced the EU decision.
"Moving toward confrontational measures and supporting unilateral actions and damaging the atmosphere are not considered by us to be a good use of the opportunity," Mehmanparast said, according to the state television network's website.
EU foreign ministers in Brussels called the restrictions a "comprehensive and robust package" focused on trade, financial services, energy, and transport, with visa bans and asset freezes for Iranian banks, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.
The ministers reaffirmed the EU's commitment to work for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue, and backed a call to Tehran to resume meaningful negotiations.
"The aim of the EU is to achieve a comprehensive and long-term settlement which would rebuild international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, while respecting Iran's legitimate rights to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy," they said in a statement.
The EU's new measures will come into force in the next few weeks, after they are published in the bloc's official gazette, officials said.
"We have a comprehensive set of sanctions. This is something where we have all 27 countries working together," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.
According to the decision reached in June, the sanctions will target dual-use items that could be used as part of a nuclear program, and Iran's oil and gas industry.
EU exports to Iran — mainly machinery, transport equipment and chemicals — amounted to euro14.1 billion ($18.2 billion) in 2008. Imports from Iran, the EU's sixth largest energy provider, amounted to euro11.3 billion, with energy being 90 percent of the total.
The new European restrictions will come on top of a fourth round of sanctions imposed last month by the U.N. Security Council to curtail Iran's nuclear program over fears it is developing weapons. The council endorsed those sanctions after Iran rebuffed a plan to suspend uranium enrichment and swap its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium for fuel rods.
The new restrictions are similar to measures adopted by the Obama administration, which has imposed penalties against additional individuals and institutions it says are helping Iran develop its nuclear and missile programs, and evade international sanctions.
In Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the country's new measures will include a ban on any new Canadian investment in Iran's oil and gas sector, and restrictions on exporting goods that could be used in nuclear programs.
Iranian banks will also will be barred from opening branches in Canada and Canadian banks will not be able to operate in Iran.
Iran denies that it is working on a nuclear weapon, saying its program is intended solely for peaceful purposes such as energy-generation, and that it has the right to enrich uranium under the international nonproliferation treaty.
"Our aim is to bring Iran back to the negotiating table," said German State Secretary Werner Hoyer. "We're offering our hand, and all they have to do is to take it."
Iran has sought to deflect pressure and further sanctions by displaying a willingness to talk about nuclear issues — a line reinforced Monday by Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Tehran's senior envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"Iran is ready to go back to the negotiating table" quickly to discuss exchanging some of its enriched uranium for fuel rods for Tehran's nuclear reactor, Soltanieh told reporters in Vienna.
He spoke after presenting revised proposals on a possible swap to IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, who was expected to relay them to the U.S., France and Russia — the three nations engaged with Iran in such an exchange.
No details of the latest offer were available. But under a similar deal in May with Brazil and Turkey, Iran agreed to ship 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, where it would be stored. In exchange, Iran would get fuel rods made from 20 percent enriched uranium. That level of enrichment is high enough for use in research reactors but too low for nuclear weapons.
Among concerns by opponents of the deal is that Iran has continued to churn out low-enriched material and plans to continue running a pilot program of enriching to higher levels, near 20 percent — a level from which it would be easier to move on to creating weapons-grade uranium.
The U.S. and its allies argue that the sanctions are in response to Iran's refusal to freeze all enrichment activities and not in response to Tehran's fuel swap offer.
Also Monday, Russia's Foreign Ministry said Tehran should stop its "irresponsible rhetoric" and take steps to end disagreements on its nuclear program. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday accused Moscow of turning against Tehran and joining the U.S. in spreading lies about its nuclear program, in the latest sign that Iran is drifting apart from a one-time key backer.
Associated Press writers George Jahn in Vienna, Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran and Charmaine Noronha in Toronto contributed to this report.
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