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U.N. considering new Iran sanctions

January 26, 2008|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council on Friday began to consider tougher sanctions on Iran that were agreed to by six major powers, including a travel ban on officials involved in the country's nuclear and missile programs, a halt to trade in sensitive nuclear technology and "vigilance" on transactions with two banks.

The new draft resolution lacked most of the harsh economic sanctions and the arms embargo that the United States wanted. But diplomats said Washington could consider it a victory to have the six powers agree on any new sanctions after its own intelligence services declared Iran had halted its military nuclear program in 2003.

The French ambassador to the United Nations acknowledged that the watered-down draft, agreed to by France, Britain, Germany, the U.S., China and Russia, is a compromise. But he said the resolution showed Iran that the major powers were still united after an eight-month deadlock.

"We are sending a very clear message to Iran and we are stepping up the pressure," Jean-Maurice Ripert said in a statement

A near-agreement almost died in December after a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate asserted that Iran had halted its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and probably had not resumed it. China and Russia, which had grudgingly agreed to new sanctions on Iran only two days before the report came out, seized on its conclusions to defer new sanctions.

But they were persuaded at a foreign ministers meeting Tuesday in Berlin to send a unified message to Iran that it still needs to answer questions about its nuclear activities and suspend uranium enrichment for the sanctions to end, no matter what U.S. intelligence says.

One reason for the new sanctions is continued suspicion about Iran's intentions, diplomats say. The other is to deter Iran's neighbors from following its path.

"We think the sanctions have been effective," said a Western diplomat on the Security Council, noting that Iran started answering questions about how it procured illicit nuclear weapons technology only after the first sanctions were imposed in 2006. "Otherwise, why do it?"

The resolution's tone is different from the previous two, emphasizing the ultimate goal of "all-round relations and wider cooperation with Iran based on mutual respect and confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program" -- if Tehran suspends uranium enrichment and reprocessing.

The draft resolution would ban travel for people involved in the nuclear program, a step up from the monitoring requested in the last resolution.

It would freeze the assets of more people and entities on a watch list, and request "vigilance" in trade with Iran and dealings with two Iran-based banks. The U.S. claims Bank Melli and Bank Saderat have funded procurement of sensitive nuclear technology. U.S. officials wanted to blacklist the banks, but fell short of the goal.

The resolution would ban trade in nuclear-related goods, and call upon countries to inspect suspicious cargo.

The Security Council plans to debate the resolution in February, after Iran's ally Libya finishes its term as council president. Indonesia and South Africa, along with new members Libya and Vietnam, have expressed reservations about new sanctions.

Indonesian Ambassador Marty Natalegawa pointed out that opponents of sanctions will support only incremental measures that probably will not be enough to change Iran's mind. "But they can potentially do so much damage to the relationship," he said. "We should work on a different approach to problem-solving."

In Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency is beginning to assemble a February report that may say that Iran has answered most of the outstanding questions about how it acquired black market nuclear technology. That could bolster China and Russia's argument that the issue belongs in the technical agency's hands, not the political arena of the Security Council, diplomats say.

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maggie.farley@latimes.com

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