All transactions between European and Iranian banks are to be prohibited, except those with advance official permission or for humanitarian purposes. Imports of natural gas from Iran will be banned. The EU is also tightening control over exports to Iran of certain goods, including metals such as aluminum and steel, computer software and shipbuilding materials.
EU foreign ministers said the new restrictions were warranted because Tehran continues to block inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency from making a full assessment of Iranian nuclear facilities and capabilities.
"Iran is acting in flagrant violation of its international obligations and continues to refuse to fully cooperate with the IAEA," the EU ministers said in a joint statement. "Today's decisions [on sanctions] target Iran's nuclear and ballistic program and the revenues of the Iranian government for these programs. ... The sanctions are not aimed at the Iranian people."
The EU said it would freeze the assets of 34 companies and institutions, mostly in the energy and financial sectors, that provide support to the Tehran regime.
The new measures come amid indications that previously approved sanctions against Iran have begun taking a deep toll on its economy, including a plunge in the value of the Iranian currency against the dollar.
Meeting in Luxembourg, European foreign ministers also agreed to expand sanctions on Syria, where government security forces have been locked in a deadly struggle with rebels seeking to oust President Bashar Assad.
The EU is outlawing weapons imports into EU countries from Syria and any involvement by EU citizens or businesses in the transport of Syrian arms or the financing of its arms trade.
"The intensification of violence and the recent series of terrorist attacks demonstrate the urgent need for a political transition that would meet the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people and bring stability in Syria," the foreign ministers said. "The EU is deeply concerned about the increasing influx of weapons into Syria and calls on all states to refrain from delivering arms to the country."
In addition, 28 people associated with the violent crackdown on rebels and protesters against the Assad regime have had their assets frozen in Europe and are subject to a travel ban in the EU.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, left, speaks with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Monday before a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg. EU foreign ministers met to discuss new sanctions against Iran and Syria. Credit: John Thys / AFP/Getty Images