Europe divided over tougher Iran sanctions

BRUSSELS: European nations appeared divided on Monday over boosting sanctions against Iran after the impasse over its controversial nuclear programme.

UN Security Council member France has called for tougher sanctions against Tehran, which is suspected of seeking to develop nuclear arms, a charge it denies.

"We hope that everyone will take the same line," French European Affairs Minister Pierre Lellouche said as he arrived for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

"Unhappily all the actions by the Iranian side for weeks confirm that we must move to (more) sanctions," he added, stressing that all diplomatic avenues had been worn out.

However several of his EU counterparts said diplomacy had not run its course and insisted on the need for a UN Security Council decision, which means getting China and Russia to agree, rather than unilaterally instigating beefed-up European sanctions.

"There is no solution other than the diplomatic route, we must try all possible diplomatic actions," said Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.

His Swedish colleague Carl Bildt insisted that the way forward lay with international action through the United Nations.

"I don't want to undercut the discussions going on in the UN at the moment," he told reporters as he arrived for the Brussels talks.

"It's only by having an agreement with everyone, and everyone includes China, Brazil, India, Turkey, that you can have an impact."

The UN Security Council has already passed three rounds of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.

Earlier this month EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton cautioned against any hasty European move to slap new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.

The EU foreign affairs chief also said she would make her first official trip to the Middle East next month, hoping to relaunch peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Ashton has assumed the role of chief international nuclear negotiator with Tehran, a post occupied until the end of last year by the then EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.