UNITED NATIONS, (AP) – The United States and its allies won approval for the toughest U.N. sanctions against Iran for refusing to negotiate on its suspect nuclear program — but they’re not the “crippling” penalties U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed to pursue a year ago if U.S. attempts to engage Iran diplomatically failed.
The big question now is whether the new sanctions will somehow persuade the Iranians to suspend their fast-expanding uranium enrichment program and sit down at the negotiating table with the U.S., China, Russia and other major powers who have offered a package of incentives if they do.
Three previous rounds of sanctions failed to get the Iranians into talks and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed Wednesday’s fourth round as “annoying flies, like a used tissue.”
The Security Council first imposed limited sanctions in December 2006 and has been ratcheting them up in hopes of pressuring Iran to rein in its nuclear program. Iran has repeatedly defied the demand and has stepped up its activities, building a clandestine nuclear enrichment plant at Qom, enriching uranium to 20 percent, and announcing plans to build new nuclear facilities.
The latest sanctions were approved by a vote of 12-2, with Lebanon abstaining and Brazil and Turkey voting “no.”
The adoption followed several months of difficult negotiations by the five veto-wielding permanent U.N. Security Council members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — and non-member Germany. Iran launched a diplomatic offensive in April to try to block it.
President Barack Obama said the new resolution imposes “the toughest sanctions ever faced by the Iranian government, and it sends an unmistakable message about the international community’s commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.”
The president said he had offered to pursue diplomatic solutions, but the six powers seeking negotiations had been rebuffed by Tehran “time and again.”
“Actions do have consequences, and today the Iranian government will face some of those consequences,” Obama said.
Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee warned, however, that “no amount of pressure and mischief will be able to break our nation’s determination to pursue and defend its legal and inalienable rights” to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, also warned that “choosing the option of confrontation will bring Iran’s resolute response,” which he did not disclose, according to Iran’s official news agency.
The new sanctions freeze the assets of 40 additional companies and organizations — 15 linked to Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, 22 involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities, and three linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. They also add the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran’s Esfahan Nuclear Technology Center to a list of 40 people now subject to both an asset freeze and travel ban.
Under the resolution, Iran is now banned from pursuing “any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” investing in nuclear-related activities such as uranium mining, and buying eight categories of heavy weapons including attack helicopters and missiles.
Iran, however, already has most of what it would need to make a nuclear weapon.
Crucially, the new sanctions do not affect oil exports, the lifeblood of Iran’s economy, because targeting them would have cost the U.S. essential support from Russia and China which have strong economic ties with Tehran. The Russians and Chinese also nixed any ban on gasoline imports because it would hurt the Iranian people and watered down tough financial and shipping sanctions proposed by the U.S. and its allies.
The resolution calls on, but doesn’t require, all countries to cooperate in cargo inspections if there are “reasonable grounds” to believe the items could contribute to the Iranian nuclear program, and any inspection must receive the consent of the ship’s flag state.
On the financial side, it similarly calls on — but doesn’t require — countries to block financial transactions, including insurance and reinsurance, and to ban the licensing of Iranian banks if they have information that provides “reasonable grounds” to believe these activities could contribute to Iranian nuclear activities.
James Lindsay, senior vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the measures adopted were not the “crippling” sanctions Clinton promised in April 2009. She said then that the United States, by trying to talk Iran out of its nuclear program, would gain “credibility and influence with a number of nations” for “crippling” sanctions in the event diplomacy failed.
Lindsay said the Security Council’s vote gave Obama “the diplomatic victory he has long sought.”
“The sanctions by themselves, however, are unlikely to produce the result he most wants: a halt to Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” he said. “The end result is that the high-stakes game of chicken over Iran’s nuclear program will continue.”
Looking ahead, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said new sanctions will pave the way for tougher additional measures by the U.S. and its allies. France’s U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said European Union foreign ministers will be meeting on Monday and while France would like tougher EU measures, all 27 countries to must decide on additional sanctions.
Turkey and Brazil brokered a fuel-swap agreement with Iran that they offered as an alternative solution to concerns that Tehran may be enriching uranium for nuclear weapons — and the two non-permanent council members expressed frustration at the rush to adopt sanctions while their effort is under way.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the resolution’s supporters “threw out an historic opportunity to peacefully negotiate the Iranian nuclear program,” and he called the new sanctions “a mistake” implemented “just for spite,” according to the state-run Agencia Brasil news agency.
Under the proposal, Iran would swap some of its enriched uranium for fuel for a research reactor in Tehran. The U.S., Russia and France have said that — unlike the original plan drawn up eight months ago — the proposal would leave Iran with enough material to make a nuclear weapon because of the country’s continuing uranium enrichment.
The three countries sent a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency seeking clarifications from Tehran, and several council ambassadors said they would still like to see the swap go ahead to start engaging with Iran.
Lebanon’s U.N. Ambassador Nawaf Salam said a fuel-swap deal would be “a gateway for confidence building measures.”
“We believe that the sanctions resolution is a painful failure of diplomatic efforts,” Salam said. “We refuse to give up. We call on all states … to reinitiate and intensify diplomatic efforts.”
The six major powers, in a statement after the vote, also reiterated their “commitment to seek an early negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue … which would restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”
They welcomed and commended “all diplomatic efforts in this regard, especially those recently made by Brazil and Turkey.”
The six countries also announced that they have asked EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton to pursue a dialogue with Iran’s Jalili.
“We expect Iran to demonstrate a pragmatic attitude and to respond positively,” they said.