EU should punish Iranians aiding Russia, Sweden says

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union should punish any Iranians it can establish have provided drones or missiles to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine, over and above the sanctions imposed for Tehran's crackdown on protesters, Sweden said on Monday.

"I think that if we can find the culprits there definitely should be sanctions," Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billstrom told Reuters in an interview.

"Those who help Russia in its aggression against Ukraine may have to be punished in one way or another. And sanctions is the only way as I can see it to punish people who are responsible for this," he said after a meeting with his EU counterparts.

EU states have already agreed to freeze the assets of three individuals and one entity responsible for drone deliveries.

The ministers slapped fresh sanctions on Iranian individuals and organisations on Monday for what the bloc says has been widespread use of force against peaceful protesters.

Iran has been gripped by protests since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in morality police custody two months ago. Tehran has blamed its foreign enemies and their agents for the unrest.

Billstrom said the additional EU sanctions were justified because the situation had deteriorated and "the amount of violence directed against people in the streets is terrifying".

French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier that the crackdown by Iran's leaders would make it harder to reach agreement on reviving a 2015 deal that would give Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Billstrom said he believed there was "still room for manoeuvre" over the nuclear deal but said there could be no trade-off between human rights and striking a deal with Tehran.

(Reporting by John Chalmers; Editing by Gareth Jones)