EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton
Source: Press TV
Foreign ministers of the European Union have imposed sanctions on Iranian oil imports over the country's peaceful nuclear program during their Monday meeting in Brussels.
The sanctions involve an immediate ban on all new oil contracts with Iran and a freeze on the assets of Iran's Central Bank within the EU.
According to an EU diplomat, the ministers have agreed to delay full implementation of the oil embargo until July 1, in order to protect Europe's economy, which is struggling with a two-year-old debt crisis.
EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, told reporters that the sanctions are aimed at pressuring Iran to return to talks over the nuclear program.
"I want to see Iran come back to the table and either pick up all the ideas that we left on the table…last year...or to come forward with its own ideas," she added.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the embargo part of "an unprecedented set of sanctions.”
"I think this shows the resolve of the European Union on this issue," he added.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle noted that imposing sanctions was a vital action to be taken to guarantee “security in the world."
Iran's oil accounts for more than one-third of Greece's total oil imports, 15 percent of Spain's and over 12 percent of Italy's.
The EU has also imposed a ban on the sale of gold, diamonds, and other precious metals to Iran.
The anti-Iran measure has drawn immediate reaction from Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected unilateral sanctions against Iran, saying the sanctions would be "unhelpful."
"Unilateral sanctions do not help matters," Lavrov said on Monday. "We will restrain everyone from making harsh moves. We will seek the resumption of negotiations.
Tehran has warned that the embargo will have negative consequences, increasing price of oil.