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The European Union is stepping up the pressure on Iran over its nuclear program. The EU says it’s preparing tougher sanctions, following last week’s report by the UN atomic agency that Iran could be preparing a nuclear bomb.

Britain and others have even hinted that Europe could go further and take steps towards a military response. But is that threat real or mere sabre-rattling?

The latest report on Iran’s nuclear program has set alarm bells ringing across the European Union. Catherine Ashton, EU Foreign Policy Chief, said, “I think there is a great deal of concerns that will be expressed today about what has been discovered through the IAEA report and what needs to happen next.”

Guido Westerwelle, German Foreign Minister, said, “We now have to shut off Iran’s revenue streams. The international community cannot just look on when a country is trying to get atomic weapons. And it’s up to Iran to avoid further sanctions”

Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency indicated that Iran’s nuclear program includes clandestine efforts to build a bomb. The EU now wants to clamp down on Iran’s oil exports and finance sector to force Teheran to open up its nuclear facilities to international inspectors.

The EU says it’ll bring in new sanctions on December first at the earliest. But the question is what if those sanctions don’t work, what happens next?

Britain and the Netherlands insist they are keeping all options open. William Hague, British Foreign Secretary, said, “We are not considering that at the moment, we are not advocating military action. At the same time, we are saying all the options should remain on the table.”

Uri Rosenthal, Dutch Foreign Minister, said, “We are not in any discussion at the moment about these sorts of things but let me say all options are the table – that’s it”

But many reject the merest hint of military action. Carl Bildt, Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister, said, “I do not think any military intervention is justified or called for. We have to solve this by diplomatic means. That is the only way in which we can sort out this problem. Sabre rattling is not very helpful.”

Jean Asselborn, Foreign Affairs Minister for Luxembourg, said, “A military option will achieve nothing. First, the consequences would be disastrous. And also because this debate we’re having right now is actually really helping Iran a lot.”

Diplomats say when it comes to Iran; the stakes are too high – and not just for Europe. On Thursday, the UN’s nuclear watchdog will meet to discuss possible measures on Iran. But many insist that diplomacy has not yet run its course.

Fraser Cameron, Director of EU Asia Center, said, “You might invite them to join the G20 in return for open inspections by the IAEA. You might go for beefed up trade and cooperation for Iran.. In fact make it so tempting for them that they would be foolish to refuse.”

Already Moscow and Beijing have made clear they would not support international action on Iran at the UN Security Council. So for now, political and economic pressure is the only way forward – even if some in Europe would like to go further.

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