SAARISELKA, Finland, March 13 There is consensus within the European Union for unilateral sanctions on Iran if a U.N. Security Council resolution fails, Finland's foreign minister said on Saturday.
Alexander Stubb said the EU remained committed at this stage to seeking a U.N. resolution, which requires the backing of Russia and China, but said that if began to look impossible, unilateral action would be taken.
"I think we'll be able to convince Russia and China and I'm quite hopeful that we'll get something in the Security Council," said Stubb, who is hosting a gathering of foreign ministers from the EU and Turkey in Finnish Lapland.
"But failing that, we'll just have to do it unilaterally and by unilateral I mean the EU directly on Iran."
Britain, France and Germany are agreed on the need for a fourth round of sanctions to restrict Iran's nuclear programme, but some smaller EU states have reservations and the details of any sanctions package have yet to be finalised.
Despite that, Stubb said there was "consensus enough" within the EU to secure support for a unilateral move and said the issue would be discussed by foreign ministers on March 22.
"Time is running out, so I'm sure this is going to be something, if the U.N. Security Council fails, that we'll deal with when we have our EU foreign ministers' meeting on the 22nd," he said. "That's when we'll get into the detail (of possible sanctions)... There is consensus enough."
Britain said on Friday it believed China would not be prepared to isolate itself over sanctions, suggesting that Beijing might ultimately move to support the United States, Britain and France in the Security Council.
But if efforts to win U.N. backing falter or start to drag on too long, EU officials have said they need to be prepared to move rapidly to implement their own measures to rein in a nuclear programme that Iran says is for peaceful purposes only.
"If we have succeeded in driving a common line on one particular issue, I would pinpoint Iran," Stubb said of the EU.
"It's true that there's a lot of convincing still to be done, but the main issue here is to get the U.N. Security Council to agree to those sanctions and therefore you have to convince the five (permanent) negotiating partners." (Reporting by Luke Baker; Editing by Matthew Jones)