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Momentum builds for more sanctions against Iran

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 6, 2007


It once scoffed at the viability of international sanctions as a diplomatic tool. But the Bush administration, convinced that punitive financial measures played a role in moving North Korea to accept a deal designed to shut down its nuclear operations, is now spearheading a multilateral effort to use sanctions to turn the screws on Iran and its nuclear program.

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Representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany are expected to begin work in New York this week on a second resolution of sanctions against Iran. The idea is to preserve Security Council unity – keeping Tehran's friends China and Russia on board – while ratcheting up the pressure on Iran.

"The administration is following a two-track approach on Iran – the threat of force [and] the pursuit of diplomacy – and the sanctions route does double duty within that approach," says Raymond Tanter, a former National Security Council official now at Georgetown University in Washington. "[The sanctions] are part of the coercive diplomacy side, but they are also part of the effort to maintain consensus among" the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.

The Bush administration says it's looking for a diplomatic solution but says it won't rule out any options to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

The new resolution, which officials say could reach a Security Council vote as early as the middle of the month, is expected to expand on and strengthen steps taken in a first resolution passed against Iran in late December. Senior officials from the six key countries discussed the contents of a second resolution in teleconference calls last Thursday and again Saturday, but they didn't come to agreement on all the points of a final text.

"This is going to be an incremental resolution," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday, referring to the ratcheting up of sanctions already in place.

Among the measures being considered, according to US and European officials, are expansion of the list of Iranian officials whose assets would be frozen, a travel ban on more Iranians who are involved in the country's nuclear research and development, and additions to the list of parts, material, and technology that would be banned from Iranian trade.

The United States also hopes to see further restrictions on export credits, or financial measures that encourage trade. European governments, among others, have provided these credits to companies trading with Iran. Moreover, the US wants to limit access that Iran's largest banks have to international markets.

But a proposal for an embargo on all arms trading with Tehran was dropped last week on Russian objections, officials said. Also scuttled was a ban on student visas for Iranians studying subjects such as nuclear physics.

Revived US interest in sanctions reflects two factors. First, the Bush administration, originally frustrated by the four months of wrangling it took to get the first resolution, which was regarded as relatively weak, took note of an almost immediate political impact in Tehran.

The resolution "has generally been a very effective mechanism by which to pressure the Iranian regime," added Mr. McCormack. The resolution has had an impact with financial and business institutions that don't like the uncertainty of dealing with a country under sanctions, he says.

Second, Washington has viewed sanctions against North Korea and UN condemnation of Pyongyang after it tested a nuclear weapon in October as having played a key role in bringing North Korea back to the negotiating table.