West Strikes First at Iran with EU Oil Sanctions as Warships Gather

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Show of strength is aimed at bringing Tehran back to negotiating table over its nuclear programme

Sanctions designed to bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear programme by choking off its economic lifeblood - oil - were imposed by the European Union yesterday, alongside a Western display of naval power as a warning to the Tehran regime against seeking military retaliation.

The punitive measures were, as expected, aimed at severely damaging the country's oil exports, with a ban on sales to EU countries. Restrictions would also be brought against key financial institutions, including Iran's central bank, in a move to tighten further the commercial noose.

The EU's announcement, described by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as " the heaviest economic onslaught on a nation in history", came within hours of an American, British and French flotilla sailing through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital channel for oil shipments that Tehran had threatened to blockade if the sanctions were imposed.

The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, escorted by a US cruiser and two destroyers, HMS Albion and a French warship, La Motte-Picquet, passed a few miles off the Iranian coast to emphasise that the strait remains an international waterway and attempts to shut it down will not be tolerated.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps had pledged that "not even one drop of oil" would be allowed through Hormuz if the US and Western Europe "carried out the blatant aggression of sanctions". There were no immediate signs of activity by Iranian armed forces yesterday in the area, but Mohammed Kossari, the deputy head of parliament's national security committee, with close links to the regime, said: "If America seeks adventures after the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, Iran will make the world unsafe for Americans in the shortest possible time. …