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More sanctions against Iran likely

The U.N. Security Council appears ready to act as one today after some concerns are met.

March 24, 2007|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council is expected today to impose further sanctions on Iran -- with the support of the entire council but without the presence of the Islamic Republic's president, who had wanted to defend his country in person.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will not be able to attend the vote as planned because his private flight crew's visas arrived too late for them to bring him to New York before the scheduled vote, Iranian spokesman Mohammed Mir Ali Mohammadi said.

However, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and the deputy foreign minister, who took a commercial flight, should arrive in time to address the council's concerns that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons technology under the guise of an energy program.

In Tehran on Friday, Ahmadinejad said Mottaki would renew a proposal for European countries to be partners in Iran's nuclear industry, saying that an earlier offer had not received proper attention. European negotiators had rejected the idea because it would leave Iran in control of the production of fuel that could be used for bombs.

"Maybe they thought with the propaganda we would back down," Ahmadinejad said on French TV channel France 24. "But we have not backed down and we will not back down."

Iran's capture of 15 British sailors and marines who were inspecting an Iranian-flagged cargo boat in the Persian Gulf heightened tensions Friday and raised questions as to whether Britain would confront Iran's officials in the council over the issue.

The British was acting under a Security Council resolution to provide security for Iraq.

Relations between the Security Council and Iran appear stretched to the breaking point. The council imposed sanctions on Iran in December to compel it to stop enriching uranium, a process that can be used to produce energy or, if highly enhanced, nuclear weapons. Iran ignored the Feb. 21 deadline and now faces further sanctions.

The draft resolution calls for a ban on Iran's arms sales and freezes the assets of 28 people and institutions associated with the nuclear program, including the state-owned Bank Sepah, members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, and companies affiliated with it.

The resolution asks countries to voluntarily monitor the movements of designated Iranian officials, restrict arms exports to Iran and curb financial assistance or loans to the country.

The sanctions will be lifted if Iran suspends uranium enrichment, the resolution says. But if Iran does not halt its activities within 60 days, there may be more penalties.

"It is suspension for suspension," acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro D. Wolff said. "It is not a high bar for Iran to meet."

Negotiations over the resolution were heated, with several members, piqued that their proposals had been ignored, threatening until the last minute Friday to abstain from the vote.

The Security Council's five veto-holding members -- the U.S., Britain, China, France and Russia -- hammered out a draft before presenting it this week to the 10 elected council members, promising them ample time to contribute changes.

On Thursday, however, the U.S. and Britain presented the final draft without incorporating proposals from South Africa, Indonesia and Qatar. South Africa had asked for a 90-day "time out" on imposing the sanctions to encourage Iran to return to talks.

British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry rejected that idea, saying three years of talks with Iran had failed to yield results and that it was "perverse" to reward Tehran for defying the council.

Indonesia and Qatar, the two Muslim nations on the council, asked to include language urging a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, implying that Israel, with its suspected nuclear weapons, would have to be included.

Wolff said talk of a nuclear-free zone "diverts from the focus of this resolution." But the council agreed to include a reference to an International Atomic Energy Agency resolution calling for a weapons-free zone, which is expected to satisfy Indonesia and Qatar, diplomats said.

South Africa had threatened to abstain because it felt "steamrolled," but by Friday evening it had signaled it would support the resolution after several of its proposals were put in the draft. That would pave the way for a unanimous resolution, strengthening the message of the council's displeasure with Iran.

"All members of the council, including South Africa, reiterated our desire to have the Security Council act together and send a message," said Dumisani Kumalo, South Africa's ambassador.

When asked whether he was disappointed over the absence of Iran's president, who has denied the Holocaust and threatened to "wipe Israel off the map," Wolff said there was still time for Ahmadinejad to make it before the vote.

"And not only does he have time to do that, but I hope he has time in his schedule to visit the Holocaust Museum in New York as well," he said.

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