REPORTING FROM LONDON -- The European Union formally approved an embargo on Iranian oil Monday to punish the regime in Tehran for its nuclear program.
The boycott takes effect immediately, canceling any new or proposed oil contracts between EU countries and Iran. Existing contracts can run through the end of June but then must be suspended.
The tough new round of sanctions was adopted by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Brussels after weeks of discussion and preparation. The U.S. already has a similar embargo in place.
"This shows the resolve of the European Union on this issue and of the international community," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in Brussels. "It is absolutely right to do this in view of Iran's continued breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions and refusal to come to meaningful negotiations on the nuclear program."
Hague called it "an unprecedented set of sanctions" that should encourage other nations to ban Iranian oil as well.
The EU is Iran's second-largest oil market after China. European officials hope that the crackdown will cause enough economic pain to force Tehran back to the negotiating table over its nuclear program, which Western countries believe is aimed at developing a weapon and not just nuclear power, as Iran insists.
Tehran has threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, in retaliation against boycotts of its oil.
But analysts regard such a drastic step as unlikely. The U.S. has warned against it and sent an aircraft carrier through the narrow strait Sunday. The carrier was accompanied by ships from the British and French navies.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: European Union foreign ministers at the start of their meeting Monday in Brussels. Credit: Julien Warnand / EPA