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U.S. seeks new sanctions on Iran

It begins lobbying for a third U.N. resolution, with stiffer penalties, to halt Tehran's nuclear program.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 20, 2007

United Nations, N.y.

Amid rising international tensions over Iran's growing influence in Iraq and the Middle East, the United States embarks this week on an effort to slap Tehran with a third Security Council resolution of sanctions over its nuclear program.

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After top American leaders including President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week singled out Iran for its "troublesome" actions in Iraq and the region, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner followed up with a warning that the international community had to prepare for the possibility of war with Tehran – a stark message from which he later backed off slightly.

But that tone will pervade a meeting of high-level diplomats from the Security Council's five permanent members – the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China – plus Germany in Washington on Friday.

That meeting – called by Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of State for political affairs – is in preparation for another meeting a week later of foreign ministers of the same countries, who will be in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.

The US will argue that because Tehran has done nothing to curtail uranium-enrichment activities, as demanded in two Security Council resolutions passed in March and December 2006, it's time to turn up the heat. The March resolution included sanctions and a three-month window, a kind of deadline for the Iranian government, after which the Council was to consider tougher punitive steps.

Tehran not only ignored the deadline but publicly proclaimed its advances in levels of uranium enrichment, a process that can lead to the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Now, the US says the Security Council must either increase pressure through additional sanctions or risk being dismissed by Iran's government.

"The 90 days [specified in the March resolution] for Iran to respond or face further action have come and gone, and then some, so we're working on moving forward on the sanctions," says Richard Grenell, spokesman for the US mission to the UN in New York. A third resolution is the international community's logical response to Tehran, he says.

Even as Washington ratchets up the pressure on Tehran, it is not clear that the Security Council is ready to go along.

As usual, Russia and China are wary of quick action. That is especially true now, in light of a "work plan" the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) crafted with the Iranian government in August for answering outstanding questions about the country's nuclear program.

At the time, the agency's director, Mohamed ElBaradei, called the agreement a "significant step" and a conciliatory move by Tehran, which he said appeared to be slowing its enrichment program for political reasons. Many analysts also saw Iran's willingness to enter into agreement with the IAEA as a political move, but designed to blunt any momentum for further sanctions. That analysis was bolstered when Iranian officials announced days later that its program had installed 3,000 centrifuges for delivering higher levels of enriched uranium.