WASHINGTON (AFP) -Major powers will press ahead with plans to impose UN sanctions on Iran over its uranium enrichment program even as the world body grapples with the reality of a newly nuclear North Korea.
Senior diplomats from the six nations confronting Iran over its nuclear program — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — will hold a videoconference Wednesday to discuss an initial list of sanctions to use against Tehran, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
The six nations’ UN ambassadors in New York will then begin drafting a sanctions resolution, he said.
Foreign Ministers from the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany decided at a meeting Friday in London to hit Iran with sanctions for ignoring UN demands that it suspend the uranium enrichment activities.
But plans to draw up a sanctions resolution at the UN this week were overtaken by North Korea’s announcement Monday that it had carried out its first nuclear test explosion.
The move unleashed a torrent of international condemnation and diplomats at the world body have since been scrambling to agree on punitive measures to draw the isolationist regime in Pyongyang back from the nuclear brink.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a series of US television interviews, said that despite the dramatic developments in northeast Asia, parallel moves to draw up a sanctions resolution against Iran were still on track.
“The United States is quite capable of taking care of several problems simultaneously,” she said, voicing confidence that “we’re going to have a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7, Article 41” against Iran.
Article 41 contains the strongest language of the UN Charter, allowing for mandatory sanctions against a member nation which is deemed a “threat to international peace and security”.
Rice acknowledged that the pace of discussions on a sanctions resolution against Iran will be slower than the fast-tracked deliberations on the more immediate threat posed by North Korea.
“The urgency on North Korea is extraordinary,” she said. “There’s no doubt that I’ve rarely, maybe never seen that kind of response from the international community.”
China and Russia, however, remain only weakly committed to taking punitive measures against Iran, with which both states have close economic ties.
Rice has called for a progressive series of sanctions that will gradually ratchet up the pressure on Tehran to suspend its enrichment program and enter into negotiations with the six powers on a package of economic and political rewards — including the first direct contacts with Washington in nearly 30 years.
The first sanctions resolution is expected to focus narrowly on freezing assets and barring some trade linked to Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
If Iran still refuses to comply, Washington will seek broader measures affecting Tehran’s economy and government.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reaffirmed Tuesday that his government would not “back down” in the confrontation.
“Our policy is clear progress proposing transparent logic and insisting on the nation’s rights without backing down,” a news anchor on state television quoted Khamenei as telling a meeting with top officials.
He said Iran had been right to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment as part of a previous agreement with European countries even though it has now resumed the sensitive nuclear work.
“If we had not experienced that (a suspension) we might have blamed ourselves and said ‘why did we not try that’?” Khamenei went on.
“But now with steady heart and full confidence we press ahead and nobody can give a good reason that the nuclear path is wrong for the country.”
Iran insists its nascent uranium enrichment program is designed only to provide fuel for civilian nuclear power stations, and thus is allowed under the nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty to which Tehran is a signatory.
But the United States and others fear the program will be subverted to provide fissile material for nuclear weapons, although analysts agree this eventuality is years away at least.