Posted on Tue, May. 18, 2010
last updated: May 18, 2010 08:39:12 PM
WASHINGTON — The United States and other major powers Tuesday put new pressure on Iran to suspend its nuclear program by agreeing to a new set of United Nations sanctions that would toughen a conventional arms embargo, tighten restrictions on Iranian banks and broaden searches of Iran-bound cargoes.
The draft resolution, which still needs U.N. Security Council approval, was a rebuff to Brazil and Turkey, which negotiated an agreement with Iran Monday under which Iran would ship some of its low enriched uranium out of the country, but would not have to suspend its enrichment program.
The United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia left the door open to a negotiated outcome as part of a "dual track" strategy.
China said in a statement that the latest move by the six powers "doesn't mean the end of diplomatic effort" and it hoped the relevant parties would "continue to make positive moves to help turn around the current situation, so that the Iranian nuclear issue (can) be resolved in a proper way."
The new strictures would toughen measures against Iranian banks suspected of involvement in nuclear or missile-related activities, and bring more Iranian individuals and entities linked to the nuclear program under a foreign travel ban and asset freeze. Iran would be prohibited from "investing in sensitive activities abroad" including the development of ballistic missiles, uranium mining or enrichment, a senior U.S. official told reporters, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitive nature.
A prime focus of the measures would be the powerful Islamic Republican Guard Corps, an elite security force that answers directly to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, plays a key role in the nuclear program and controls key sectors of the economy.
"We have reached agreement on a strong draft with the support of China and Russia," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after she resolved the final details by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
It was far from certain, however, that new sanctions — the fourth round in as many years — would compel Iran to comply with repeated U.N. demands to suspend uranium enrichment, halt the construction of a heavy water reactor and disclose the full history of its program, including alleged weapons-related research.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice presented the draft to a closed-door Security Council session Tuesday afternoon, opening what could be weeks of wrangling over a final version.
Western officials allege that Iran's nuclear program _ which was concealed for 18 years from U.N. inspectors and was started with technology and knowhow purchased from a Pakistani-run smuggling ring _ is part of a secret nuclear weapons development effort.
Iran rejects the charge and says it needs low-enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power plants that it plans to build. It also says it has the right to peaceful nuclear technology as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of the global system to prevent the spread of nuclear arms.
Brazil, a rotating member of the Security Council, rejected the new draft out of hand, and Turkey is known to be opposed to it.
"Brazil is not engaging in any discussion on a draft at this point because we feel that there is a new situation," Brazilian Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti told reporters outside the Security Council. The vote of Lebanon, the current Security Council president, whose coalition government which includes the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement, is highly uncertain.
Under the agreement announced in Tehran, Iran would send 2,640 pounds _ just over half of its stock _ of 3.5 percent low-enriched uranium for storage in Turkey. After a year, it would receive 20 percent low-enriched uranium to fuel a research reactor in Tehran that's used to make medical isotopes.
The U.S., European Union and Russia were skeptical of the deal, partly because it does not require Iran to halt uranium enrichment, a process that produces low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants or highly enriched uranium for warheads, depending on the duration.
"This announcement (of the draft resolution) is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide," Clinton said. "There are a number of unanswered questions regarding the announcement coming from Tehran."
The draft resolution was finalized after weeks of intense negotiations among the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France — the veto-wielding permanent Security Council members — and Germany, a group known as the P5+1.
It was a major diplomatic advance for President Barack Obama as China and Russia, which have significant trade ties with petroleum-rich Iran — had resisted tough sanctions.
Moscow and Beijing apparently lost patience with Iran over the disclosure last September that it was secretly building an underground enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom. They also were disappointed when Tehran balked in October at a P5+1-backed plan to have most of its enriched uranium stock converted into fuel rods for the Tehran research reactor.
"On Russia and China, I think the failure of the . . . swap was kind of a wake up call," said Sharon Squassoni of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The draft resolution "definitely breaks new ground and I think Iran is very worried about it," said David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security. "They are a country that depends upon international trade a great deal and this just makes it harder. It's tightening the screws."
Obama is pursuing what he calls a "dual-track approach" in which he sought tougher sanctions, but kept alive an offer to resume negotiations on a P5+1 plan to extend political and economic benefits to Tehran in return for a suspension of its uranium enrichment program.
But he also has declined to rule out military action against Iran's nuclear facilities.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking in New York earlier this month at the opening of a conference on the NPT, said Iran has no intention of heeding the new sanctions.
Ray Takeyh, an expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, said that Obama could "continue with the process of incremental pressure" by seeking a fifth round of sanctions if the new package failed to bring Iran back to negotiations.
The draft resolution affirms that the P5+1 offer to resume negotiations remain open, the senior U.S. official said.
A U.N. panel of experts would be appointed for the first time to monitor international compliance with the new sanctions and three earlier packages, and recommend ways to tighten enforcement of all of the resolutions, said a senior U.S. official. The U.S. official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue.
The provision against investments in "sensitive activities abroad' apparently is aimed at ending cooperation between Iran and North Korea and to block a reported deal under which Iran would provide oil to the impoverished southern African nation of Zimbabwe in return for access to potentially large undeveloped uranium deposits.
A limited conventional arms embargo against Iran would be expanded to sales of heavy weapons such as tanks and other armored combat vehicles, large artillery pieces, combat aircraft and attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems and training on those systems.
The resolution would prohibit Iran from "undertaking any activity with ballistic missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear weapons," said the senior U.S. official.
It was unclear how that prohibition would be enforced against Iran, which already has developed medium-range ballistic missiles believed to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Governments would have to deny licenses to Iranian banks or prohibit the opening of new Iranian bank offices if there is reason to be believe they are involved in nuclear proliferation.
The proposed package would "establish a comprehensive new framework for cargo inspections" of Iranian ships if they are believed to be carrying nuclear or missile-related items, said the U.S. official, who added that it would not permit unauthorized boarding of Iranian vessels.
Governments would have to seize such items, inform the United Nations of any efforts by state-owned Iranian air or sea shipping firms to evade sanctions and block those companies from purchasing insurance for suspect cargos.
Governments also would have to deny licenses to any Iranian-owned banks suspected of links to Iran's nuclear or missile programs.
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