The European flag (top L) flies amongst EU member countries' national flags in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg October 12, 2012.
(Photo : Reuters/Vincent Kessler)
European Union governments imposed sanctions on Tuesday against major Iranian state companies in the oil and gas industry, and strengthened restrictions on the central bank, cranking up financial pressure over Tehran's nuclear program.
Among the more than 30 firms and institutions listed in the EU's Official Journal as targets for asset freezes in Europe was the National Iranian Oil Company, one of the world's largest crude exporters, and the National Iranian Tanker Company.
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Both are vital elements of the Iranian oil industry, the main source of revenue for the government which is being targeted by Western sanctions.
Their importance has risen in recent months as governments in Europe and United States seek to curb Tehran's access to cash, forcing Western companies to halt trade with Iran and, in turn, driving Tehran to rely more on domestic firms.
Justifying the decision, EU governments said both NIOC and NITC provide financial support to the government.
Iran said the sanctions would not work.
"We recommend that, instead of taking the wrong approach and being stubborn and using pressure, ... with a logical approach they can return to discussions," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference.
The United States has already imposed restrictions on NIOC last month and has blacklisted the tanker company.
Washington has argued the NIOC is linked with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran's elite force which according to the U.S. Treasury Department has recently been coordinating a campaign to sell Iranian oil in an effort to evade Western sanctions.
The new listings flesh out a decision by the EU's 27 governments on Monday to introduce sweeping new sanctions against the Iranian industry, banking and energy sectors in the hope of drawing Tehran into serious negotiations about its atom project.
Iran denies its work has any military intentions and says it will not abandon it unless major international sanctions are lifted.
But Europe and the United States are refusing to do so, amid growing concerns over Iran's nuclear project and fears of an Israeli attack on Tehran's nuclear installations which could flare up into a new war in the Middle East.
In Tuesday's list, the European Union also targeted NIOC subsidiaries, as well as the National Iranian Gas Company and National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution. Several banks were also listed.
Neither the United States nor Europe import Iranian oil and both are trying to curb Iran's sales elsewhere.
In Monday's decision, the European Union also banned imports of natural gas to Europe and imposed broad measures against EU companies cooperating with Iran's ship-building industry.