BRUSSELS, Jan. 23 (Reuters) – The European Union on Monday introduced new sanctions against Iran over a “brutal” crackdown on protests, but the bloc’s top diplomat said the country’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) cannot be listed as a terrorist group without a court decision.
Relations between the 27-nation EU and Tehran have deteriorated amid stalled efforts to revive talks over its nuclear program, and deteriorated further as Iran moved to detain several European nationals.
The bloc has also become increasingly critical of continued violent treatment of domestic protesters, including executions, and the transfer of Iranian drones to Russia.
Sweden, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said the bloc’s foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday “adopted a new package of sanctions against Iran, targeting those driving the repression”.
“The EU strongly condemns the brutal and disproportionate use of force by the Iranian authorities against peaceful protesters,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said, according to a Twitter post from the EU’s diplomatic mission.
EU diplomats told Reuters last week that the bloc would add 37 names to a blacklist of Iranian people and entities banned from traveling to Europe and subject to an asset freeze.
The European Parliament has called on the EU to go further and list the IRGC as a terrorist entity, blaming it for cracking down on protests now in their fourth month and supplying drones for Russia’s war against Ukraine.
The IRGC was established shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to protect the Shiite clerical system of government. It has an estimated 125,000 strong military personnel with army, naval and air units, and commands the Basij religious militia which is often used in crackdowns.
“The Iranian regime and the Revolutionary Guards terrorize their own people day in and day out,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said at Monday’s meeting.
But the top EU diplomat said that a court decision with a concrete legal conviction must first be delivered in a member state before the EU itself can apply such a designation.
“It’s something that can’t be decided without a court… a decision first. You can’t say I consider you a terrorist because I don’t like you,” Josep Borrell told reporters on the sidelines of the Brussels talks.
Ministers gathered in the political center of the EU where thousands took to the streets a day earlier to protest the detention in Iran of Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele.
Iran previously warned the EU against designating the IRGC as a terrorist entity.
Report by Bart Meijer and Philip Blenkinsop, written by Ingrid Melander and Gabriela Baczynska, edited by Peter Graff, Timothy Heritage and John Stonestreet
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.