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EU court scraps sanctions on Iranian university

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BRUSSELS (AP) — A European Union court on Thursday annulled sanctions placed by the 28-nation bloc on a leading Iranian university because of its alleged involvement with the country's nuclear program.

The asset freeze imposed on Tehran's Sharif University of Technology cannot be upheld because the EU failed to provide sufficient evidence, the Luxembourg-based General Court ruled.

However, in light of the EU's overall foreign policy goals toward Iran, the asset freeze will remain in place for another two months to hinder the university from instantly withdrawing its frozen funds, leaving the bloc's governments the possibility of targeting it anew with better proof, the court said.

Governments have often been reluctant to provide confidential intelligence findings underlying their sanctions decisions to the court for fear of exposing their knowledge or informants.

In this case, it appeared once more that the EU's sanctions regime hit a dead end because of the national spy agencies' secrecy: The court said the proof provided was insufficient and a confidential document, on which the governments partly based their decision, could not be seen by the judges because the member state where it originated "is opposed to disclosure, either wholly or in part."

The EU in 2012 sanctioned the Sharif University claiming it was "providing support to Iran's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities," saying it was providing laboratories for entities targeted by the United Nations and the EU over their involvement in the country's nuclear program.

The United States, the EU and others fear Iran is pursuing a program to build nuclear weapons. Tehran denies that.

World powers are currently negotiating with Iran to end the stand-off over its nuclear program. The aim is to reach an agreement by the end of the month that would see Iran stopping some nuclear activities and allowing intrusive inspections in return for a gradual lifting of the sanctions that have taken a heavy toll on Iran's economy.

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Follow Juergen Baetz on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jbaetz

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