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Sat 9 Aug 2008 08:35 AM

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Powers ponder new sanctions against Iran

UK, US, Germany and France may impose new restrictions in nuclear row.

Britain, France, Germany and the United States are considering imposing additional sanctions on Iran over its nuclear work, possibly in the energy, reinsurance or financial sectors, a senior British official said on Friday.

These are beyond measures already taken by the United Nations Security Council and beyond steps likely to be considered in a possible next round of U.N. sanctions, the official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said.

"We are at a fairly early stage of this but ... there are areas of the Iranian economy that are vulnerable to targeted sanctions - whether they be in the LNG (liquefied natural gas) sector, investment in the oil and gas sector, imported refined products, reinsurance, other financial areas - which are areas we would look at if we are looking to increase the pressure on the Iranian leadership," the official said.

He said the countries discussing imposing additional sanctions were Britain, France, the United States and Germany, and primarily the first three of those countries.

There were "a number of other countries that we would want to involve in those discussions as we go forward," he said, without naming them.

Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States have been leading diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to freeze nuclear enrichment.

Western powers fear Tehran wants to build an atomic bomb. Iran says it is only seeking to master nuclear technology to generate electricity.

Middle East experts predict negotiations on a new sanctions resolution will be lengthy as veto-wielding council members Russia and China seek to balance their growing frustration with Iran with major commercial interests in the world's fourth biggest oil producer.

Iran's oil and gas industries are seen as off-limits for UN sanctions. International tension over Iran's nuclear programme has been one factor that drove up U.S. oil prices to a record $147 a barrel in July.

Iran gave a noncommittal, one-page letter this week to the six powers containing no reply to their offer to refrain from seeking more U.N. penalties if Iran froze expansion of its nuclear work.

Iran promised a "clear response" at an unspecified date.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last month the United States would impose more of its own sanctions against Iran, along with European allies, as long as Tehran refused to give up sensitive nuclear work.

"We have said we will continue looking to see how best to apply pressure to the Iranian regime and we will continue to do that," said State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos on Friday.

"We have done it in the past, we will continue to do that now," added Gallegos, who declined to specify when more U.S. sanctions would be imposed and what additional measures Washington was mulling against Tehran. (Reuters)

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