BRUSSELS (AFP) - Europe tightened the noose on President Bashar al-Assad on Monday, sanctioning the Syrian leader for the first time as it responded to the change sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. European Union foreign ministers also strengthened sanctions on Iran and were to take a fresh look at the Middle East peace process in the wake of US President Barack Obamas new policy twist, as well as discuss events in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. As the death toll continued to climb in Syria, the 27-nation bloc agreed to add the president, along with several leading officials, to an earlier blacklist. The repression in Syria continues, said British Foreign Secretary William Hague as he went into the talks with his counterparts. It is important to see the right to peaceful protest, the release of political prisoners and taking the path of reform, not repression, in Syria over the coming days. An EU diplomat said the sanctions aimed to stop the violence and press Assad to agree to a process of reform, but not to force him to step down. Stepping up pressure on the Assad regime to call a halt to weeks of relentless violence, the EU earlier this month issued an arms embargo as well as a visa ban and assets freeze against the presidents brother, four of his cousins, and others in his inner circle. European nations had held off hitting out at the Syrian leader in hopes of seeing what EU foreign policy chief dubbed genuine and comprehensive political reform. As she joined the foreign ministers, Ashton said Syrias government has to act now. Turning to Iran, the ministers agreed to add more than 100 firms to a blacklist of companies hit by an assets freeze over Tehrans disputed nuclear programme, diplomats said. The new restrictive measures come amid efforts to jumpstart international talks aimed at convincing Iran to halt its nuclear activities. Meanwhile, Iran is considering imposing sanctions on US officials for human rights violations, attempting to turn the tables after years of sanctions imposed by the West. Under this plan, 26 American officials who have a history of human rights violations in the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and who support terrorism.. will be sanctioned, lawmaker Kazem Jalali was quoted as saying. While the new EU sanctions agreed on Monday are aimed at pressuring Iran to curb its nuclear activities, the measures being discussed in Tehran are a response to a US move last year to punish Iranians who US said were involved in human rights abuses during mass protests in 2009. Jalali, spokesman of parliaments national security and foreign policy committee, did not name the officials but said if lawmakers approve the draft, there will be punitive measures.