EU WILL PUSH FOR HARSHER MEASURES AGAINST IRAN TO PREVENT "TRADE WAR'

EU WILL PUSH FOR HARSHER MEASURES AGAINST IRAN TO PREVENT "TRADE WAR'

The European Union, to help avert a U.S. ''trade war,'' will press for tougher measures against Iran in return for a U.S. commitment not to retaliate against Europeans investing in Iranian oil, a top British official indicated Thursday.

Robin Cook, Britain's Foreign Secretary now serving as president of the EU's council of ministers, pledged that the 15-nation EU will ''do more'' to stop Iran from acquiring materials for building ballistic missiles or weapons of mass destruction.''We are determined to make international cooperation . . . increasingly effective . . . We will use every tool and every agency at our disposal to obstruct Iran's unacceptable ambitions. We will put in place the tightest net we can to stop Iran from getting the weapons it wants,'' he said.

But, he told a European Institute conference, the EU ''cannot forge a new partnership with the United States on Iran while we are looking down the barrel of the (U.S.) Libya-Iran Sanctions Act.''

The act, if implemented, would ignite a disastrous U.S.-EU trade law, he warned. ''It has an extraterritorial impact on legitimate business which is unacceptable.''

The act directs the president to apply economic sanctions against foreign entities exceeding congressionally prescribed annual investment limits in Iran or Libya's oil and gas sectors. The president, however, may waive the sanctions for ''national interest'' reasons.

The EU is seeking a permanent presidential waiver from possible U.S. Iran-related sanctions.

Mr. Cook's comments came as U.S. and EU officials conferred here on a number of bilateral issues, including the Helms-Burton Act, the U.S. statute that aims to tighten the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

President Clinton is due to announce today whether he will invoke the act's highly controversial Title III, which authorizes U.S. firms and nationals to sue foreign entities profiting from U.S. property expropriated by Cuba. The suits could involve up to $6 billion in property.

The EU, claiming this provision violates international trade rules, is threatening to file charges against the United States at the Geneva-based World Trade Organization.

Mr. Clinton, however, is widely expected to suspend Title III for another six months, claiming he is getting more cooperation from European and other countries in promoting Cuban human rights. He has already suspended the title three times.

Since last April, U.S. and EU officials have been trying to reach an agreement to resolve their Cuban-policy differences. Under discussion are new international guidelines governing investments in expropriated property.