UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – A third UN resolution imposing sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear program could come as early as September, diplomats said as Washington raised the heat on the Islamic republic.
Five months after the last round of sanctions was approved, three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — United States, France and Britain — support such a move, while Russia and China are more hesitant.
With resolutions 1737 (December 2006) and 1747 (March), the Security Council imposed then increased sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt sensitive uranium enrichment activities.
The sanctions aim to convince Tehran to stop enriching uranium and building a heavy-water reactor in Arak, and to cooperate fully with the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
After vowing that its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian aims, Tehran has not changed its stance and leaders have vowed that nothing will force it to halt uranium enrichment, which can be used to produce nuclear weapons.
Washington fears the program is a cover for nuclear weapons building and, in turn, has pressed for new measures, including via the United Nations.
On Wednesday the United States announced it planned to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a “terrorist” group, possibly in the coming weeks.
The Guards are an elite force of 100,000 troops whose influence stretches into the fields of business and politics and would be the first national military branch included on the US terror list.
Even though the European Union has no such plans to place the Revolutionary Guards on its terror list, French ambassador to the United Nations Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters that Paris believes Iran needs to be dealt with “very firmly.”
“Unfortunately it appears that the Iranians have still not delivered what the Security Council has asked them to do and we will reach a time when we will have to again boost the international sanctions,” he said.
“I am not sure that we have the choice of waiting until October to bring this matter before the Security Council,” he added.
At the end of July, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said “there will probably be a third (UN Security Council) resolution in relation to Iran soon and I believe that that is a way forward that is working and will work.”
Brown, who appealed to Iran to “understand the fears that other countries have about the development of a nuclear weapons program,” also refused to rule out military action against the Islamic republic.
But Moscow and Beijing are hesitant to further tighten sanctions on Iran, fearing such a move would directly impact their economic interests in Iran, said one Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.
They could argue that new sanctions should not be imposed as long as Iran is talking with UN nuclear watchdog inspectors in a bid to clear up questions over its nuclear aims.
China’s deputy UN ambassador Liu Zhenmin told AFP on Thursday that is was “possible” that the question of new sanctions could be discussed in September.
Nevertheless, he said it would be necessary to first wait for an IAEA report on its contacts with Tehran, then arrive at an agreement between the five permanent Security Council members as to which kind of policy to pursue.
IAEA experts last week discussed with Iranian authorities the possibility of inspecting the nuclear site at Natanz in southern Iran, where uranium is enriched to produce nuclear fuel, after gaining access to the heavy water reactor in Arak on July 30.
Arak is a key Western concern and the visit was the first since Iran in April blocked access to the plutonium-producing research reactor, which is currently under construction.
Western experts believe that when it is up and running, Arak will be able to produce 12.5 kilograms of plutonium each year, enough for two or three nuclear bombs.
On August 20, Iran is to hold a third round of talks with IAEA officials tasked with determining whether Iran is engaging in a civilian nuclear energy program as it claims, or if it is hiding plans to build bombs.
Iranian nuclear negotiators have expressed hope that Tehran’s willingness to to step up cooperation with the IAEA would avert any attempt to impose new sanctions.