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U.S. signals new sanctions against Iran

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates says world powers soon will agree on 'significant additional sanctions.' Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warns Latin American nations will face 'consequences' if they 'flirt' with the Islamic Republic.

December 12, 2009|By Paul Richter
  • Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates greets coalition military officers at a NATO training facility in Kabul, Afghanistan. Later in Iraq, while answering questions, Gates said world powers would agree soon on sanctions against Iran if it did not change course.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates greets coalition military officers… (Justin Sullivan / Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — The Obama administration signaled its intention Friday to push for new sanctions against Iran, warning that tough new measures are likely now and urging reluctant nations not to circumvent them.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is visiting Iraq, said world powers soon would agree on "significant additional sanctions." Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, warned in Washington that Latin American countries, in particular, will face "consequences" if they "flirt" with the Islamic Republic.

At the United Nations, top U.S. diplomats, including U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice, joined European officials in accusing Iran of sending weapons to Syria in a breach of a U.N. arms export ban.

The warnings came as a year-end deadline set by Western countries for Iranian cooperation is about to expire, and they represented the clearest sign yet that President Obama is ending efforts to engage Tehran.

The next move will be international negotiations on a new set of economic sanctions, which may begin within days, to build on U.N. measures dating to 2006. A senior European official said negotiations on the new measures could last until February.

Leaders of 27 European Union nations signaled their support for action at a meeting Friday in Brussels, citing "Iran's persistent failure to meet its international obligations."

U.S. officials have not advocated specific sanctions but favor steps to further constrict trade by freezing international banking activity and shipping. Advocates also hope nations will impose sanctions individually and the European Union also will impose penalties.

Many countries have signaled an openness to additional punishment, including Russia, a onetime holdout. However, the harshest measures, such as targeting Iran's imports of gasoline, remain divisive. And China, which has strong economic ties with Iran, remains leery of new sanctions, adding uncertainty to the coming talks.

Obama began his presidency with a vow to negotiate with Iran, and officials of both nations met in October at an ://articles.latimes.com/2009/oct/02/world/fg-iran-geneva2. The administration still prefers talks to sanctions, but Obama has said that he would not wait indefinitely for Tehran to accept international offers.

The U.S. and its allies want Tehran to give up its nuclear enrichment program, which Western officials believe is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon. Iran insists that it is intended only for civilian uses.

The White House, in a statement Friday, said Iran's rulers had ignored international overtures. Administration officials also expressed concern about what it called the "deteriorating human rights situation" after a government crackdown on opposition demonstrations.

"To date, Iran has not taken advantage of the many opportunities to begin to build trust and confidence," the White House said. "Instead, the Iranian leadership's actions over the past several months have increased the international community's concerns about Iran's claims that its nuclear intentions are exclusively peaceful."

In his speech Thursday as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama called on world powers to join in sanctions that would "exact a real price" from Iran.

Friday, his top aides were reinforcing the warnings, suggesting possible next steps. The day's strongest language came from Clinton, who signaled that nations that try to disrupt the U.S.-European efforts to isolate Iran risked punishment. She did not specify what that punishment would be.

In a Latin American policy speech at the State Department, she said building ties with Tehran was "really a bad idea."

"If people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them," she said. Clinton specifically mentioned Venezuela and Bolivia, whose left-leaning leaders, Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, have sought to build an anti-U.S. political alliance, which also includes Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba.

Her words also appeared to be a warning to Brazil, an even more influential country that dominates its region and is growing in worldwide influence.

Brazil does not share the strong anti-U.S. and leftward political leanings of some other Latin American countries, but it has been building ties with Iran and has resisted Western efforts to pressure Tehran.

Iranian officials have had a series of widely publicized meetings with South American leaders in recent years, aimed in part at demonstrating that it has foreign allies and trading partners in spite of U.S. efforts to isolate it.

Gates' comments on additional sanctions came during a question-and-answer session with U.S. troops in Kirkuk, in Iraq. His prediction apparently was the first time a senior official so directly asserted that sanctions were ahead.

"I think you're going to see some additional sanctions imposed by the international community, assuming the Iranians don't change course and agree to do the things that they signed up to do at the beginning of October," Gates said.

He continued to play down the possibility of military action, saying there are "no good options in Iran."

At the U.N., a Security Council sanctions committee voiced "grave concern" about reports of arms smuggling by Iran. The committee cited arms shipments to Syria by Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

U.S. Ambassador Rice said that Iran "has now been caught breaking the rules" and that such actions are "unacceptable."

paul.richter@latimes.com

Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in Beirut contributed to this report.

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