UN council set to approve new Iran sanctions

The United Nations Security Council is expected to adopt a third round of sanctions against Iran for its nuclear programme on Monday, but diplomats said this might be the first round that is not approved unanimously.

Tehran denies Western charges it seeks nuclear weapons and has ignored three previous Security Council resolutions demanding it freeze its uranium enrichment program, which can produce fuel for nuclear power plants or atomic weapons.

The five permanent council members — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia — and Germany, which is not on the council, agreed in Berlin on January 22 on a draft text outlining a third round of sanctions against Tehran.

Washington had hoped for a swift vote on the sanctions text but negotiations dragged on for a month and a half.

The revision process now appears to be at an end. Britain and France circulated what they described as the final text on Friday and called for a council meeting to vote on it on Monday at 4pm GMT.

It has been clear since January that the new sanctions would be approved, since they have the backing of all five permanent council members and six non-permanent members.

But the resolution’s European co-sponsors — Britain, France and Germany — have been lobbying four reluctant council members in an attempt to get a unanimous vote and send the strongest possible message to Tehran.

South Africa, Libya, Indonesia and Vietnam have all questioned the wisdom of imposing further sanctions on Iran at a time when the UN nuclear watchdog in Vienna says Tehran’s cooperation with UN inspectors has improved significantly.

Diplomats said there was a good chance South Africa and Vietnam would vote for the resolution, though the possibility remained that they could abstain. Indonesia and Libya were more likely to abstain or vote against it, they said.

”I wouldn’t predict how the vote will turn out at this point,” one diplomat added. ”Things could still change.”

Tightening the screws

South Africa’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Dumisani Kumalo, told reporters on Saturday before an emergency meeting on the situation in the Gaza Strip that he still had reservations about the sanctions resolution and did not know how he would vote.

”I haven’t received instructions from my government yet,” Kumalo said.

The resolution calls for more travel and financial restrictions on named Iranian individuals and companies and makes some restrictions mandatory. Two earlier sanctions rounds were approved unanimously in December 2006 and March 2007.

Diplomats describe the third sanctions resolution as a moderate tightening of the screws from the two previous ones. They said this was the most Washington could get after a surprising US intelligence report released in December said Iran had scrapped its atom bomb programme in 2003.

The final version of the resolution, which was obtained by Reuters, included some suggestions made by Vietnam in an effort to secure a ”yes” vote from Hanoi, diplomats said.

The text had few changes from earlier versions but did include some new language stressing the key role of the UN nuclear watchdog. All four skeptics had wanted this.

The final text also includes language dealing with South Africa’s concerns about a paragraph requiring states to search air and sea vessels with dubious cargo. It says searches must comply with international sea and aviation treaties and laws. – Reuters

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