UN to slap fresh sanctions on Iran
The international powers stepped up their battle with Iran over its nuclear program Wednesday with the UN Security Council ready to pass a tough fourth round of sanctions.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened to suspend nuclear negotiations in response to what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said would be "the most significant sanctions that Iran has ever faced."
The US-drafted sanctions resolution, co-sponsored by Britain and France with the backing of Russia and China, would expand an arms embargo, target Iran's banking sector and ban the country from sensitive activities like uranium mining.
It would authorize states to conduct high-sea inspections of vessels believed to be ferrying banned items for Iran and add 40 entities to a list of people and groups subject to travel restrictions and financial sanctions.
The resolution is certain to be voted despite efforts by Brazil and Turkey to head off the measures and promote a nuclear fuel swap deal they reached with Tehran last month.
The West has cold-shouldered the proposal, saying it did not allay fears that Tehran is using its contested nuclear drive as a cover to produce nuclear weapons.
Ahead of the 10:00 am (1400 GMT) start of the Security Council meeting, the United States, France and Russia formally replied to the International Atomic Energy Agency to Iran's proposals for a nuclear fuel swap.
The three had proposed last October that they take most of Iran's low-enriched uranium (LEU) and turn it into the much-needed fuel for a reactor which makes radioisotopes for medical use. Tehran rejected that plan.
The Security Council has already passed three rounds of sanctions on Iran since December 2006. The last was adopted on March 3, 2008.
Only Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon -- three non-permanent council members -- have openly voiced opposition to the latest round of sanctions. It remains unclear whether they will vote against or abstain.
Iran's president has angrily warned that negotiations with Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany on his country's nuclear program would be terminated if the council passes the sanctions.
"I have said that the US government and its allies are mistaken if they think they can brandish the stick of resolution and then sit down to talk with us, such a thing will not happen," Ahmadinejad said.
A Turkish diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity that Ankara was trying to persuade Tehran against such a move.
Among those subject to the travel restrictions under the resolution would be Javad Rahiqi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran's Isfahan nuclear technology center.
According to the draft text, 22 of the entities are linked to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, 15 are "owned, controlled, or acting on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps" and three are controlled by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.
The western campaign has been boosted by getting Russia and China onboard.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whose country has strong economic ties with Tehran, pressed for tempered sanctions.
"Our point of view is that these decisions should not be excessive and should not put the Iranian people in a complicated position which would put up barriers on the path to peaceful nuclear energy," Putin was quoted by Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency as saying.
Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, said Washington still hoped to "persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program and negotiate constructively and in earnest with the international community."
"We remain committed to the dual-track approach" of pressure through sanctions coupled with negotiations, she added.
Ahmadinejad, however, urged Western powers not to dismiss the deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil last month, which he described as an opportunity that should be "put to good use."
"Opportunities will not be repeated," he warned while on a trip to Istanbul.
Under the plan, Iran agreed to ship 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in return for high-enriched uranium fuel for a Tehran research reactor that would be supplied later by Russia and France.
But the six western powers gave the deal a cool reception.
© 2010 AFP