South Africa pushed on Monday for a 90-day freeze of Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for a simultaneous suspension of United Nations sanctions that the Security Council is looking to toughen.
The 90-day, simultaneous suspension was contained in a series of South African amendments to a draft resolution agreed by six major powers last week and toughening UN sanctions slapped on Iran in December for its nuclear defiance.
”The 90-day period of grace provided to Iran would allow for a de-escalation of tensions and create an opportunity for Iran and the other parties involved to resume negotiations toward a long-term solution,” the South African text said.
”Sanctions should never be adopted in haste when other tracks for the peaceful resolution of a situation should be addressed,” the text said.
The idea of a simultaneous 90-day suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment and of UN sanctions against Iran was first proposed earlier this year by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.
Diplomats in Vienna, meanwhile, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that Iran had denied UN inspectors access to its underground uranium enrichment plant on Monday.
Blocking definitively IAEA access to Natanz could be a violation of Iran’s obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with as-yet unknown impact on the UN sanctions talks.
The new sanctions draft bans Iran from exporting arms, calls for voluntary trade sanctions and expands a list of officials and companies targeted for financial and travel restrictions.
The text would give Iran 60 days to comply or face ”further appropriate measures”, meaning economic sanctions but no military action, under Article 41 of the UN Charter.
But the South African amendments would gut much of the text, by deleting the weapons ban and many financial sanctions, according to Western diplomats.
They would also drop several names of companies and persons subjected to assets freezes or travel restrictions, including Bank Sepah, key officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its entities.
”I don’t think that these amendments are consistent with the approach the Security Council is following,” said French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere.
South Africa, which dismantled its nuclear weapons programme during its 1990s transition to democracy, has consistently defended Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.
The South African envoy said the co-sponsors of the draft resolution requested informal talks for Tuesday ”on other related matters, not to negotiate” the text.
”The negotiations [on the draft among the council’s 15 members] will start on Wednesday,” he added. The sanctions package was agreed last week by envoys of the council’s five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany.
The United States announced Monday it had granted visas to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and 38 aides and bodyguards so he can address the Security Council when it votes on the new sanctions resolution.
State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said Iran made an additional request on Monday for visas for 33 air crew and those were also expected to be granted.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed preparations for the new UN sanctions vote with her counterparts from the European Union and Germany.
The West fears Iran aims to produce nuclear weapons with the enriched uranium, but Tehran insists the fuel is for peaceful energy purposes only. Iran warned against tougher sanctions on Monday.
”Adopting new resolutions by the Security Council … will face Iran’s proportionate response,” Abbas Araghchi, deputy foreign minister in legal and international affairs, said in a meeting with foreign ambassadors.
The United States says it wants a diplomatic solution to the nuclear stand-off, but it has never ruled out a military option. – Sapa-AFP