NICOSIA, Cyprus — The European Union is considering imposing more sanctions on Syria in a bid to end its civil war and against Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions, the bloc's foreign policy chief said Saturday.
Catherine Ashton said a review in under way for both Syria and Iran "not only to consider whether more sanctions should be taken, but to make sure the enforcement of sanctions is done properly and any abilities to evade them are dealt with."
On Friday, the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain said they support new sanctions against Iran over the lack of progress in talks about the country's nuclear program, which the West fears could be used to build weapons. Iran insists it only seeks to make nuclear fuel for energy and medical reactors.
"Certainly we keep sanctions under review all the time, so the discussions are ongoing... Certainly the issue of sanctions was raised by a number of different partners," Ashton told reporters at the end of an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Nicosia.
China and Russia have repeatedly used their veto powers in the U.N. Security Council to block U.S. - and Arab-backed action that could have led to sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. But the EU has its own sanctions regarding Syria, including one requiring the bloc's 27 nations to board ships and airplanes carrying suspicious cargo to the country.
Speaking to reporters at the end of an EU foreign ministers meeting in Cyprus, Ashton said she will do everything she can to ensure Iran complies with its obligations regarding its nuclear program, adding that Tehran needs to demonstrate that its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful purposes only. She said she's in touch with Tehran's top nuclear negotiator to see how to nudge negotiations forward.
The EU has teamed up with the U.S. to impose sanctions on Iran, including international embargoes on its oil, its main source of revenue.
On Syria, Ashton repeated Assad "should go" and that a top priority for the EU is to offer its full backing to the new U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is set to begin mediation aimed at ending the civil war. Activists say more than 23,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.
Ashton urged Syrian opposition groups to form a united front against the Assad regime. "It's really important that the people in Syria feel that they, whoever they are, are part of that future," she said.
Ashton said humanitarian concerns about Syrian refugees remains an "absolute priority" and that the EU is working with Syria's neighbors to provide assistance. She said some 200,000 people have sought refuge in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
On Friday, the EU announced it will provide an additional €60 million ($76 million) in humanitarian aid for Syria.