EU to tighten sanctions against Belarus, Iran and Syria

EU to tighten sanctions against Belarus, Iran and Syria

PanARMENIAN.Net - European Union Foreign Ministers will tighten sanctions against Belarus, Iran and Syria when they meet tomorrow, March 23, but national diplomats are frustrated with their inability to affect the behavior of the three regimes.

The ministers will seek to freeze the assets of several Belarusian businessmen and to ban them from travel in the EU. But they will first have to convince Slovenia and Latvia to drop their reservations about such a step.

Last month, Karl Erjavec, Slovenia's foreign minister, blocked sanctions against Yuriy Chizh, a Belarusian businessman who is reported to be involved in projects with Slovenian participation, saying that it was unfair to single out Chizh.

In response, EU diplomats have been drafting a more extensive list of people who could be included in a new round of sanctions. However, no final agreement has yet been reached.

They will also discuss whether national ambassadors, who were recalled last month after Belarus expelled the ambassadors of Poland and of the EU, should return to Minsk.

Belarus last week executed two men who had been convicted of killing 15 people in a bomb attack on a Minsk metro station last year. Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, said that the two men had not received a proper trial. Belarus , the only country in Europe that still uses the death penalty, is thought to have executed around 400 people over the past two decades.

In the case of Iran, the ministers will approve a ban on the export of equipment and software used to monitor and intercept phone and internet traffic. Various Western firms have reportedly exported such technology to Iran.

The EU last week ordered the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) to exclude Iranian banks from its electronic bank-transfer services. SWIFT complied on Saturday (March 17). This will make business with Iran more expensive including transactions that are not subject to EU sanctions.

The sanctions are supposed to punish Iran for its crackdown against the opposition following a disputed election in 2009, and to force it to open up about its covert nuclear programme. Talks on the nuclear programme are expected to resume in the coming weeks after more than a year.

The ministers will also expand existing travel bans and asset freezes against members of Syria's ruling elite, including family members of President Bashar Assad, a diplomat said.

It is not clear whether the list will include Asma Assad, the president's wife, who also holds British citizenship, EuropeanVoice. Com reported.

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