By Francesca Piscioneri
NAPLES, Italy, June 29 (Reuters) - The Group of Eight wealthy powers are likely to agree to adopt sanctions against Iran when they meet in Italy next week, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Monday.
Speaking at a news conference to present the July 8-10 summit of G8 leaders, Berlusconi, said the situation in Iran will be at the top of the international issues on the table.
Asked if the G8 would adopt sanctions against Iran, Berlusconi said he did not want to announce decisions in advance but, having spoken to his G8 partners on the telephone, "I believe things will go in the direction you have said."
As Italian prime minister Berlusconi is acting president of the G8, but it remains to be seen how much support there is for a tightening of sanctions already adopted against Iran over its nuclear programme by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.
US President Barack Obama is trying to engage Iran over its nuclear programme and he and some allies could consider new sanctions counter productive.
Experts say agreement on trade sanctions would be unlikely anyway because of opposition from U.N. Security Council members Russia, which is part of the G8, and China.
So far both the United States and the 27-nation European Union have avoided talk of new punitive measures, even though leaders have been fiercely critical of Iran following its disputed presidential election and crackdown on protesters.
"For the moment, we are still seeing what we have seen before — leaders holding back, trying to see what is happening, trying to make sure they are not seen as meddling in the system and not making matters worse for the protesters," Clara O’Donnell of the Centre for European Reform in London told Reuters last week.
United Nations sanctions on Iran already cover weapons, nuclear materials, the travel and finances of individuals and firms, and other financial and trade measures. [nLQ709764]
The EU has frozen the assets of Iran’s biggest bank, Bank Melli, and imposed visa bans on some officials.
The United States has banned most U.S.-Iran trade and imposes sanctions on foreign companies that invest more than $20 million a year in Iran’s energy sector.
Options for more sanctions could range from more individual travel bans on Iranian officials to putting pressure on European oil companies to quit Iran and, ultimately, trying to embargo the supply of gasoline to Iran, which lacks refining capacity despite being the world’s biggest oil exporter.
The G8 is made up of the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Russia.