EU leaders vow to impose tougher sanctions against Iran as Ukraine's president pleads for support

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From left, Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Malta's Prime Minister Robert Abela, Netherland's Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Portugal's Prime Minister Luis Montenegro, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni speak during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Omar Havana)

BRUSSELS – European Union leaders vowed on Wednesday to ramp up sanctions against Iran as concern grows that Tehran's unprecedented attack on Israel could fuel a wider war in the Middle East. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used the summit to remind the leaders that his country still badly needs support to combat Russia's invasion.

The EU has already slapped sanctions on the Islamic Republic but French President Emmanuel Macron said new measures should target “those who are helping to produce the missiles and drones that were used" in the weekend attack.

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In a statement released after the first day of their summit, which also focused on the war in Ukraine and ways to boost the bloc’s economic competitiveness, the leaders warned that the EU "will take further restrictive measures against Iran, notably in relation to unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles.”

The statement also called “on Iran and its proxies to cease all attacks " and urged all sides to exercise "utmost restraint and to refrain from any action that may increase tensions in the region.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has tasked his staff with drawing up new measures but expanding sanctions, however, is not a simple step — the EU has already targeted those responsible for making drones that Iran has sold to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine.

The idea is to expand that list to include missiles, although there is no evidence that Iran has sold missiles to Russia. Borrell said that proxy forces backed by Iran in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria could also be targeted with sanctions.

Some seek sanctions on those providing Iran with the components to make drones, measures already approved in July 2023. Borrell said his team would look at whether to expand the list of components, or develop ways to stop the sanctions from being circumvented.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, said his position is that the " Iranian Revolutionary Guard should be put on the sanctions list” and that this “would be a very important signal.”

But that would pose legal challenges. Borrell said an EU member country would have to provide evidence that the Revolutionary Guard has been involved in acts of terrorism against it — something that none have so far claimed.

The United States is also preparing new sanctions targeting Iran’s missile and drone program and entities supporting the Revolutionary Guard and Iran’s Defense Ministry, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

The EU leaders also renewed their call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and the release of hostages, as well as the provision of "full, rapid, safe and unhindered access to humanitarian aid at scale for Palestinians in need.”

Regional tensions have mounted since the Oct. 7 start of the latest Israel-Hamas war, when Palestinian militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups, backed by Iran, carried out a devastating cross-border attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel and seized 250 as hostages. Israel responded with an offensive in Gaza that has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,800 people, according to Gaza's health officials.

Russia’s two-year war in Ukraine was also on the agenda, with Zelenskyy addressing the Brussels summit remotely and repeating an appeal for more air defenses, including Patriot missile systems.

“They are needed in Ukraine right now, needed to stop (Russian President Vladimir) Putin from relying on terrorist methods," he said, according to a transcript provided by the EU. Zelenskyy also asked for more “weapons for our soldiers” and “shells for artillery. Vehicles. Drones. Everything that helps to hold the front line.”

Since launched the February 2022 full-scale invasion, Russia has captured nearly a quarter of Ukraine.

Ukranian soldiers are outnumbered, outgunned and in desperate need of more troops and ammunition while doubt is increasing about Western military aid. Zelenskyy said repeatedly Ukraine must bolster its air defenses and replenish its ammunition supplies amid Russian pushes along the front line.

EU Council President Charles Michel, who chaired the summit, said that Zelenskyy had asked the Europeans to help convince the U.S. to speed up the delivery of arms and funding for Ukraine's war-battered economy.

Michel said the leaders agreed that Europe should also provide help more quickly. “This is not a question of months, it’s a question of days and weeks. It’s very important that we deliver,” he told reporters after the meeting.

On Thursday, the summit will focus on how to bolster the EU’s competitiveness and improve the single market.


AP Business Writer David McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany, contributed to this report.

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