European Union nations are exploring a new raft of sanctions against Iran as exasperation mounts over blocked talks on the country's contested nuclear programme, several EU ministers said on Friday.
"We might have to decide soon a new round of sanctions in the European Union," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said during informal talks in Cyprus with his 26 EU counterparts. "I see a growing consensus between my colleagues."
"We will not accept a nuclear weapon for Iran," he added.
After the foreign ministers of Britain and France stated they were calling on their colleagues to agree new sanctions as patience with Iran wore thin, Italian Foreign Minister Guido Terzi said in remarks to journalists: "I agree!"
"The door to negotiations for the EU is always open, but "it has to be matched again with increased pressure because up to now there has been no satisfactory outcome in the latest round of negotiations."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Iran had a right to nuclear energy for civilian purposes but "we consider unacceptable, highly dangerous, the prospect of Iran possessing nuclear weapons."
He said all foreign ministers who spoke on the issue at the talks favoured fresh punitive measures against Iran and that work to agree financial, trade and oil sanctions would begin "in the coming days."
The last round of EU sanctions, a damaging oil embargo, came into effect on July 1, adding to US financial sanctions aimed at shutting off Iran's oil exports, which account for half of government revenues.
Earlier, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that EU sanctions were having "a serious impact" and that "it is necessary to increase the pressure on Iran, to intensify sanctions, to add further to the EU sanctions."
Exploring new punitive measures comes amid growing impatience over the lack of progress in months of negotiations with Iran led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on behalf of the major powers.
Ashton had been expected to hold a new set of talks around the end of August with lead Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, but there has been no sign of fresh talks despite increasing talk in Israel of the possibility of pre-emptive military action against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Failing diplomatic progress, new sanctions could be announced at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers in mid-October, a diplomatic source told AFP.
"I call on the Iranian side to take stock of the seriousness of the situation. We will not accept discussions and negotiations that serve only to gain time," said Westerwelle.
Iran must make "substantial" proposals, give access to all its installations to international inspectors and renounce once and for all nuclear armament, he added.
Iran insists that its nuclear programme is for peaceful power generation and medical purposes only and that it has a right to uranium enrichment under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has called for Western sanctions on its economy to be eased.
The so-called P5+1 group which Ashton represents -- made up of the UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany -- has told Iran to immediately stop enriching uranium to 20 percent level, to ship out its existing 20 percent stocks and to shut down a fortified underground enrichment facility.
Analysts say enrichment to 20 percent is a key step towards the 90 percent level required for an atomic bomb.