EU gets tough towards worrying regimes

The European Union has imposed sanctions on Syria and Iran and expanded a list of Belarusian officials banned from traveling within the EU member states.

­In response to the crackdown on anti-government protests in Syria, EU foreign ministers agreed to add President al-Assad and nine other senior members of the government to a list of those banned from traveling to the EU and subject to asset freezes.

The 27 EU foreign ministers said in a statement "the EU is determined to take further measures without delay should the Syrian leadership choose not to change its current path," Reuters reported. 

Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said it was necessary to move against Syria's top leaders.

"If someone represses his own people like that, responds to peaceful demonstrations with force, this can't be left unanswered by the European Union," he said. 

Almost a thousand people have been killed since anti-government uprisings began in Syria in February. 

Earlier in May the bloc blacklisted 13 other senior Syrian officials. 

At the meeting in Brussels on Monday the European Union also extended its sanctions against Iran, over concerns about Tehran’s nuclear program. 

Over 100 Iranian officials and companies were added to a list of companies and people subject to asset freezes and travel bans. 

"The Council adopted legislation today to strengthen the restrictive measures imposed on Iran owing to concerns about its nuclear program," Reuters quotes the ministers as saying.

World powers suspect Tehran is developing the weapons of mass destruction, while the country insists its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes only.

Last month, the EU ministers imposed sanctions on 32 Iranian officials for human rights violations.

The European Union's Council of Foreign Ministers also expanded a list of Belarusian officials banned from traveling within the EU member states.

The EU decided to discuss additional sanctions after the sentencing of ex-presidential candidate Andrey Sannikov to five years in prison by a Belarusian court.

­Middle East expert Rouzbeh Parsi from the EU Institute for Security Studies thinks there is a certain inherent logic to sanctioning countries and, then, when they start to improve, removing the sanctions as a reward. But this strategy seems to fail.

“The latest sanctions, particularly the ones that deal with Iran’s economy, are cutting it off from the financial eco system. This is having an effect on Iranian’s society and the economy at large,“ he says. “But they were put in place primarily in order to affect Iran’s ability to acquire the nuclear capability that might end up with a nuclear weapon. And on that particular aspect, I think, they haven’t had that much of an effect yet.”

“The much more long-term strategy that one would have to pursue would be some kind of regional framework, where you are basically enticing Iran to think that it’s more worthwhile not to go down that path of continuing on its own, within barely the hallmarks of the NPT [Nuclear Non Proliferation treaty]. But no one has come up with a way of making that politically feasible, neither here in the EU itself, nor in the region as such,” he added.