The leaders did not make an explicit call for an embargo on Iranian crude oil, which EU diplomats have been discussing this month as a way to respond to mounting concerns that the OPEC producer has worked to design a nuclear weapon.
Instead, they called on their foreign ministers to broaden existing sanctions, which include asset freezes and travel bans on those involved in the nuclear work. EU leaders also called on them to study “additional measures against Iran as a matter of priority and to adopt these measures no later than by its next session,” which is scheduled for Jan. 30.
The International Atomic Energy Agency last month released new evidence confirming international concerns that Iran is seeking the atom bomb. Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
Last week, EU foreign ministers agreed to develop new sanctions on Iran’s energy, transport and banking sectors. Diplomats said a ban on imports of Iranian oil into Europe was under discussion.
The sanctions have had an impact on Iran’s economy, experts say, but they have not achieved their aim of stopping work that the West suspects is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
Iran’s international isolation deepened after protesters stormed two British diplomatic compounds on Nov. 30, smashing windows, torching a car and burning the British flag in protest against new sanctions imposed by London.
Iran is OPEC’s number two oil producer and exports 2.6 million barrels a day, depending heavily on oil revenues.
France, backed by Germany and Britain, has led the push to ban its crude, but some states, notably Greece, have expressed reservations, because of their reliance on Iranian oil.
At a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Thursday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said EU governments were trying to resolve this dilemma. “We are working on these subjects to see how we can ensure that certain European countries are not penalized by an embargo on petroleum exports,” he said.