Reporting from Washington — The Obama administration signaled Wednesday that the United States would accept weakened United Nations sanctions against Iran as a way to quickly assemble a broad international coalition against Tehran's nuclear program.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said adoption of a new sanctions resolution by the U.N. Security Council is more vital than the actual measures taken.
"What is important about the U.N. resolution is less the specific content of the resolution than the isolation of Iran by the rest of the world," Gates said.
He said a Security Council resolution "provides a new legal platform" for individual nations or groups, such as the European Union, to take more stringent action. In that way, the U.N. resolution acts as a "launching pad" for economic strictures that are much tougher than those adopted by the world organization, he said.
Gates' comments were the clearest sign yet that the administration, facing continuing resistance from other countries to the harshest of the proposed measures, is lowering its sights.
U.S. and allied officials have given up on prospects for a ban on petroleum shipments to or from Iran, and some allies have questioned other potential measures.
Some foreign diplomats close to the talks have been predicting for weeks that the Obama administration and its allies would take what they could get, then look ahead to sanctions from individual countries or groups of nations.
The diplomats have said that nations acting in this way could exert enormous additional pressure on Tehran by taking steps to cut off investment, financial services and trade with Iran.
The Security Council vote, even if weak, "gives you an international blessing that is worth a lot," said one diplomat representing a government that supports sanctions, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Iran says that its nuclear program is solely for developing civilian energy, but Western officials contend that Tehran wants to acquire the ability to build atomic weapons.
U.S. officials have expressed satisfaction that China and Russia, once the principal obstacles to Security Council action, have joined in the discussion about the proposed sanctions. Even so, both countries have continued to express misgivings, indicating that there are sharp limits to how far they will go.
There were also reminders Wednesday of the challenges the U.S. and its allies face in winning over members of the Security Council.
The foreign minister of Turkey, which holds one of the council's nonpermanent seats, challenged the U.S. approach and said his country was against using proposed economic punishments to pressure Tehran.
Ahmet Davutoglu said world powers would not be able to design sanctions that target Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps while sparing the rest of the population. "All of these sectors are interrelated," he said in Washington.
Times staff writer Julian E. Barnes in Lima, Peru, traveling with Defense Secretary Gates, contributed to this report.