European nations are reported to be floating the idea of imposing fresh sanctions on Iran in a bid to keep the US in the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
Reuters, citing a confidential document it had seen, said Britain, France and Germany have proposed the sanctions over Iran's ballistic missiles and its role in Syria's war.
The agency said the joint paper has been sent to EU governments as the support of all 28 member nations would be required.
The proposal is part of an EU strategy to save the accord that curbs Tehran's ability to develop nuclear weapons, namely by showing US President Donald Trump that there are other ways to counter Iranian power abroad.
US President Donald Trump has issued an ultimatum over the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories on January 12. It said they must agree to "fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal" – which was sealed under his predecessor Barack Obama – or he would refuse to extend US sanctions relief on Iran. US sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh "waivers" to suspend them on May 12.
'Proliferation of Iranian missile capabilities'
The document referred to sanctions that would "target militias and commanders." It proposes building on the EU's existing sanctions list related to Syria, which includes travel bans and asset freezes on individuals, and a ban on doing business or financing public and private companies.
It was strident in its criticism of Iran's ballistic weapons, which Tehran says are for defensive purposes, saying there were "transfers of Iranian missiles and missile technology" to Syria and allies of Tehran, such as Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon's Iran-backed Shi'ite Hezbollah.
"Such a proliferation of Iranian missile capabilities throughout the region is an additional and serious source of concern," the document said.
European powers accuse Iran of transferring missiles and missile technology to Syria.
"We will therefore be circulating in the coming days a list of persons and entities that we believe should be targeted in view of their publicly demonstrated roles," the document said, referring to Iranian ballistic missile tests and Tehran's role in backing Syria's government in the seven-year-old civil war.
The steps would go beyond what a US State Department cable seen by Reuters last month outlined as a path to satisfy Trump: simply committing to improving the nuclear deal.
It also reflects frustration with Tehran. "We're getting irritated. We've been talking to them for 18 months and have had no progress on these issues," a diplomat said.
European Union foreign ministers will discuss the proposal at a closed-door meeting on Monday in Brussels, diplomats said.
October 12, 2017: Activists hold a rally in front of the White House to denounce US President Donald Trump's anticipated decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal.
Iran warns against 'painful mistake'
Analysts say the nuclear agreement, touted at the time as a breakthrough reducing the risk of a devastating wider war in the Middle East, could collapse if the US pulls out.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif struck a defiant note towards Washington on Friday.
"If the United States makes the mistake of pulling out of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), it will definitely be a painful mistake for the Americans," Iranian state television quoted Zarif as saying. The JCPOA is the formal name of the nuclear deal.
Zarif did not refer to the possibility of new EU sanctions.
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
The commission overseeing the nuclear accord said on Friday in Vienna that Iran was meeting its obligations under the deal.
The joint document by Britain, France and Germany said they were engaged in "intensive talks with the Trump administration to "achieve a clear and lasting reaffirmation of US support for the (nuclear) agreement beyond May 12."
The proposal follows weeks of talks between the State Department and European powers as they try to mollify the Trump administration, which is split between those who want to tear up the agreement and those who wish to preserve it.
A US State Department official declined to comment, adding, "We don't want to get ahead of the EU's decision-making process... There is broad agreement on the areas that need strengthening, but how that's done in each of the three areas is the subject of our negotiations."
A different US official cited "very good" talks with London, Paris and Berlin this week in Vienna on the issue.