Brussels wants to strengthen co-operation with the Gulf to counter Iranian attacks
The EU’s foreign ministers will impose two new rounds of sanctions on Iran on Monday to address growing concerns in the Gulf and Europe over Iranian drones.
Two separate sanctions packages, one aimed at human rights violations and another at Iran’s drone transfers to Russia for use in its war in Ukraine, are expected to be adopted on Monday, EU diplomats said.
“Our approach is to increase pressure,” said an EU diplomat.
It will be the third time in less than two months that Brussels has punished Iran for its brutal repression of anti-government demonstrators. This included the hanging on Thursday of a 23-year old man accused of wounding a member of the pro-regime Basij militia three months ago.
Activists say more than 500 people have been killed since the protest movement began on September 16, with least 18,000 detained.
The UK on Friday in parallelannounced sanctions against 10 Iranian officials and 20 other people from different countries.
The EU also adopted a first package of sanctions aimed at Iranian drone transfers to Russia on October 20.
Sanctions include travel bans, asset freezing and forbidding EU citizens and companies to make funds available to Iran.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said that for the first time in three weeks, there have been reports of attacks by Iranian drones on Ukraine.
“It is likely that Russia exhausted its previous stock of several hundred Shahed-131s and 136s and has now received a resupply” said the ministry on Twitter.
Earlier this week, White House national Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that Russia continues to use Iranian drones “to hit civilian targets and kill innocent Ukrainians nearly every day”.
An EU diplomat said that European foreign ministers will have a lengthy discussion on Iran on Monday “for the first time in a very long time”. It will include “the impact of Iran’s destabilising actions in its regional environment and on European security”.
The diplomat added that the EU would take a “series of actions” in addition to adopting new sanctions.
“We’re talking about how to avoid the circumvention via Iran of sanctions imposed on Russia,” they said.
“We’re talking about how we can react to limit military support given by Iran to Russia. We are talking with our partners in the Gulf about how we can help them to face such actions.”
The diplomat declined to give further details before the announcements are made public on Monday.
The diplomat’s statements come three weeks after the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave a speech in Bahrain indicating that the use of Iranian drones on European soil had been a game-changer for the continent.
She said that Europe wanted to strengthen its engagement in the Gulf region via closer co-operation on maritime security to ensure safe shipping lanes.
In her speech, she referenced a drone attack on November 16 on an oil tanker off of Oman, which western officials have attributed to Iran.
“Several Gulf countries have been warning for years about the risk that Iran feeds rogue nations around the world with drones,” she said.
Ms von der Leyen said that it took Europe “too long to understand” that it should work on preventing Iran from developing both nuclear weapons and more conventional weapons such as drones.
Europe and the Gulf “should work on a co-ordinated approach to Iran — with a broader focus than nuclear,” she added, referring to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“Gulf security matters to Europe, as Europe’s security matters to the Gulf,” she said.
This is one of the reasons that the EU will soon appoint its first special representative for the Gulf, she added.
“Let us join forces for our collective security,” said Ms von der Leyen.
Reports that Brussels’s choice may be Italian diplomat Luigi Di Maio have caused controversy in the Gulf.
The former Italian foreign minister in 2021 triggered a diplomatic crisis between Italy and the region over a weapons deal.