Council imposes bans on Tehran

U.N. panel targets Iran's nuclear effort, without much hope of desired outcome

December 24, 2006|By Maggie Farley | Maggie Farley,Los Angeles Times

UNITED NATIONS -- The Security Council unanimously voted yesterday to impose sanctions on Iran intended to curtail its nuclear program, ending two months of haggling that highlighted the divisions among council members rather than their unity.

The resolution, delayed by disagreements over how restrictive the penalties should be, bans the transfer of technology and materials that could help Iran build nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. It also demands that Iran immediately suspend uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of spent fuel within 60 days or face further sanctions.

The resolution is the culmination of more than three years of persuasion by the United States, convinced that Iran's nuclear energy program is a cover for developing nuclear weapons know-how. But China and Russia, permanent members of the Security Council, had resisted action that might harm their commercial interests in Iran, and said they feared isolating the Islamic Republic.

The final language included several concessions to Russia and China; nonetheless, Iran immediately rejected the watered-down resolution. "A nation is being punished for exercising its inalienable rights" to develop nuclear energy, Iranian Ambassador Javad Zarif told the council after the vote.

Security Council diplomats trumpeted the strong message the council was sending Iran to compel it to stop enriching uranium and return to talks. But they privately conceded that they did not expect the bans to have significant influence. Washington is urging its allies to build on the resolution with their own national sanctions.

Alejandro D. Wolff, the acting U.S. ambassador, said that the resolution is "only a first step," and that harsher sanctions could be in store. "If necessary, we will not hesitate to return to this body for further action if Iran fails to take steps to comply," he said.

European allies had long insisted that carrots would work better than sticks. But after Tehran rejected a package of incentives offered last June to resume talks, then ignored an Aug. 31 Security Council deadline to stop enriching uranium, patience with Iran dwindled. Even Russia said that Iran needed to allay suspicions by heeding the Security Council demand to halt uranium enrichment.

Enriched uranium can be used for producing fuel for nuclear power plants, as well as for nuclear weapons. Tehran insists that it is only interested in generating energy and will stand by its right to do so.

In a statement from Tehran, the government said it would risk further sanctions and continue enrichment, saying it "has not delegated its destiny to the invalid decisions of the U.N. Security Council." The measure also freezes the overseas assets of 10 organizations and 12 Iranian individuals said to be involved in the country's ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

But the Security Council did not end up banning travel by those people, in the face of Russian opposition, instead urging countries to report the movements of the officials to a U.N. sanctions committee. It will also allow Russia to continue providing construction help and fuel for an $800 million nuclear plant at Bushehr, which is expected to go online next year.

Russia's objections to elements that it feared would prohibit "legitimate business transactions" forced the council to delay the vote from Friday to yesterday.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin called President Bush yesterday morning to hammer out final points on the resolution, a White House spokesman said.

At the last moment, Russia succeeded in removing Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization, which produces missiles, from a list of proscribed companies but left three of its subsidiaries on the list.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin had said during negotiations that Russia was convinced that sanctions are rarely effective and that the measures in the resolution were not enough to change Iran's behavior. Instead, he said, the emphasis should be on getting Iran back to the negotiating table and ensuring that it cooperates with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, to resolve questions about its nuclear program.

In Washington, Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, said that he hoped the resolution "would open the way for further action outside the Security Council" and that the U.S. is pushing Japan, European governments and international lending agencies to impose their own tough measures on Iran. Some European banks and companies have halted business with Iran in the last year, at the request of the U.S.

"We don't think this resolution is enough in itself," Burns told reporters. "We're certainly not going to put all of our eggs in a U.N. basket."

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