New sanctions against Iran proposed

February 25, 2008 5:41:13 PM PST
The United States predicted a swift vote on new United Nations sanctions against Iran following a strategy session Monday, as Iran again denied ever trying to build nuclear weapons. Diplomats from Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany and the U. S. met at the State Department ahead of what U.S. and European diplomats say will be a week or more of debate over the third international attempt to coerce Iran to bargain over its nuclear program. Iran has defied the U.N. Security Council's demands to roll back a nuclear program it maintains is peaceful.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to approve the new sanctions, although an unanimous vote is unlikely. A senior U.S. official said a vote is likely within a week to 10 days. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door session, said there were no changes to a draft that calls for a third round of mild sanctions.

The United States had wanted stronger penalties and much faster action to impose them, and U.S. diplomats have said the new vote is a test of the credibility of the Security Council in following through on its threats.

Permanent U.N. Security Council members Russia and China, trade partners of Iran's, have resisted stronger measures as counterproductive or a bad precedent.

The long-delayed debate was held up again recently as some nations said they wanted to first hear a report from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, which has investigated Iran's nuclear past.

The report Friday said major issues that had raised past suspicions about Iran's nuclear work had been largely resolved, and also confirmed that Iran continued to enrich uranium in defiance of the Security Council. Enriched uranium can be used either for nuclear energy or for bombs, and Iran insists it has the right to develop its own enrichment technology.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report noted Iran had rejected documents linking it to missile and explosives experiments and other work connected to a possible nuclear weapons program, calling the information false and irrelevant.

The report called weaponization "the one major ... unsolved issue relevant to the nature of Iran's nuclear program."

The weaponization debate continued Monday as the IAEA presented documents in Vienna, Austria, that diplomats said indicate Iran may have focused on a nuclear weapons program after 2003. That is the year that a U.S. intelligence report concluded with "high confidence" that Iran had stopped such work.

Iran again denied ever trying to make such arms. Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, the chief Iranian delegate to the agency, dismissed the information showcased by the body as "forgeries."

Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany and the U.S. have offered Iran a package of economic and other incentives to give up the disputed nuclear work, and sanctions are supposed to either push Iran to the table or punish the major oil producing nation for its defiance.