EU diplomats said on Friday the bloc’s 27 governments have reached an agreement in principle to target equipment that could be used by the Iranian authorities for monitoring of anti-government dissent.
The new round of sanctions could also raise the number of officials affected by asset freezes and visa bans under the EU’s program to target human rights abuses in the country.
Diplomats stressed that the measures were separate from EU efforts to ratchet up pressure against Tehran over its disputed nuclear program with sanctions against its oil industry and financial sector.
“There is a political deal to include in the next round of sanctions a mechanism to ban the purchase and sale of telecommunications equipments which could be used to carry out interceptions or to spy,” one EU diplomat said.
Discussions on the measures at an expert level will continue in the coming weeks, diplomats said, and there was no target date yet for reaching a final agreement or for implementation.
One diplomat said the EU could try to introduce the new package in April, when an initial round of sanctions related to human rights abuses comes up for renewal.
But others said there were still disagreements among some EU members states over which officials could be included.
The EU already has imposed sanctions against 61 Iranian officials under its human rights sanctions program. Some capitals are cautious about extending the list given concerns as to whether there is sufficient evidence to name individuals.
Iran has come under increased criticism from the United Nations in recent months over human rights violations.
The U.N. General Assembly’s rights committee passed a resolution in November expressing concerns about incidents of torture, excessive use of the death penalty, discrimination against women, and persecution of journalists and religious minorities.
U.S. lawmakers also are considering a bid to force President Barack Obama’s administration to blacklist Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as human rights abusers and ban companies from supplying Iran with equipment – including telecommunications equipment – used to commit human rights abuses. Neither man is targeted by the EU.
The EU imposed a gradual embargo on imports of Iranian oil in January and sanctioned the country’s central bank as part of western efforts to force Tehran to hold back its nuclear work.
Western powers fear Iran is working to produce an atom bomb but Tehran says it aims to increase electricity output to meet rising demand.