European Union foreign ministers showed cautious support on Monday for possible new economic sanctions on Iran in a shift of policy after accusations of Iranian attack plots in France and Denmark, diplomats said.
Denmark and France briefed their EU counterparts at a meeting in Brussels on the alleged plots and ministers agreed to consider targeted sanctions on Iranians in response, although no details or names were discussed, five diplomats told Reuters.
Though still at an early stage, the EU’s readiness to penalize Iranians would be the first such move in years after months of internal division over how to punish Iranians accused of destabilizing activities in Europe and the Middle East.
Until now, the EU has been straining to uphold the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers that US President Donald Trump pulled out of in May. It has been less willing to consider sanctions, instead seeking talks with Tehran.
Iran has warned it could ditch the nuclear deal if EU powers do not protect its trade and financial benefits.
France has already imposed sanctions on two Iranians and Iran’s intelligence service over what it says was a failed plot to carry out a bomb attack at a rally near Paris organized by an exiled Iranian opposition group. One option is to establish those asset freezes at an EU-wide level, diplomats said.
Denmark, which in October said it suspected an Iranian government intelligence service had tried to carry out an assassination plot on its soil, is also open to EU-wide sanctions, the diplomats told Reuters.
In October, France said there was no doubt that Iran’s intelligence ministry was behind the June plot to attack the demonstration by Iranian exiles near Paris.
It froze assets belonging to Tehran’s intelligence services and two Iranian nationals - a Vienna-based diplomat now under arrest in Belgium for the plot and the deputy minister and director general of intelligence, Saeid Hashemi Moghadam.
Neither appear to have held any assets in France. Paris also discreetly expelled an Iranian diplomat, diplomatic sources told Reuters last month.
Iran has denied any involvement in either alleged plot.
Under the 2015 deal, Iran restricted its disputed nuclear program, widely seen in the West as a disguised effort to develop the means to make atomic bombs, in exchange for an end to international sanctions against it.