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U.S., allies present proposal for Iran sanctions

Brushing aside Iran's latest offer to address concerns on its nuclear program, the major powers introduce a list of new U.N. sanctions.The measures would limit arms sales and allow searches of ships.

May 18, 2010|By Paul Richter and Christi Parsons, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington —

The United States and other major powers, brushing aside Iran's latest offer to address international concerns about its nuclear program, introduced a detailed list of new U.N. sanctions Tuesday against the Islamic Republic.

The new punitive measures, which would limit arms sales to Iran and authorize searches of ships for suspected weapons, came a day after Iranian leaders, flanked by Brazilian and Turkish officials, announced an agreement on a nuclear material swap that they said should relieve international concerns.

The Iranian offer was received with skepticism by most world powers. U.S., French, German and Russian officials all raised questions about the announcement, noting that Iran would still keep more than a ton of its nuclear stockpile and would continue enriching uranium in its centrifuges.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing at a Senate hearing Tuesday, disclosed that the United States and its Western European allies had finally won agreement from China and Russia on a new sanctions package.

"This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken by Iran over the last few days as any we could provide," Clinton said.

U.S. and allied officials portrayed the proposed sanctions as a major step but acknowledged that the measures might not be sufficient to force Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program and comply with United Nations demands. The proposal formally presented Tuesday by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council for consideration by the full, 15-member panel would probably be combined with other sanctions imposed by individual countries and groups of nations, which would intensify pressure.

Officials said deliberations within the polarized council could take weeks and might be snarled by the last-minute offer by Iran on Sunday aimed at defusing growing international pressure on Tehran.

The plan worked out with Brazil and Turkey calls for Iran to ship 2,640 pounds of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey under the supervision of Iran and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog. In return, Iran would receive 265 pounds of uranium from France and Russia within a year for use in a small nuclear reactor that produces medical isotopes to treat the ill.

U.S. and allied officials said that although the draft of the sanctions resolution served as a response to the Iranian proposal, they did not water down the punitive measures to make them more acceptable to reluctant countries such as Russia and China.

"The timing was driven by our ability to reach consensus, not other factors," said a senior Obama administration official who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The sanctions are aimed at further limiting Iran's capacity to develop nuclear weapons, crimping its ability to conduct trade, and singling out officials and organizations that are key to those processes. The punishments are aimed at penalizing the Revolutionary Guard, the powerful military arm that oversees weapons programs and runs a huge slice of Iran's economy.

The sanctions package includes intervening in the maritime traffic in suspected weapons and nuclear technology, much like a 2009 resolution aimed at North Korea to block suspected weapons shipments and nuclear traffic.

The sanctions would authorize countries to inspect cargo ships that are in their own territorial waters and are heading to or from Iran if there is reason to suspect that they contain nuclear technology, prohibited weapons or other goods banned by the U.N. The provisions would not allow countries to search ships on the high seas without the vessels' permission.

Officials said such sanctions against North Korea have proved their worth. In one case, the government in Pyongyang ordered a ship home rather than risk having it searched in a foreign port.

Officials said another important provision would bar sales of eight new categories of weapons to Iran, including tanks, large-caliber artillery, attack helicopters and certain missiles or missile systems. Diplomats said this provision makes an important political point to Iran, because it was adopted with the acceptance of Russia, which has been a key arms supplier to Tehran and has heretofore resisted sanctions on Iran.

The package also sets up a new program of surveillance over all arms sales to Iran.

The provisions do not, however, restrict sales of some high-tech defensive missiles, such as the advanced S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles that Russia has agreed to sell, but has not yet delivered, to Tehran. These missiles would pose a high risk to any air force that sought to bomb Iran, and U.S. officials have been pressuring Moscow to not follow through on the delivery.

Under the proposed sanctions, Iran would be barred from making any investment in another country related to uranium mining, enrichment, production or other such activities.

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