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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.

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"The West thought the Iranian nation would give in after just a resolution, but now we have taken another step in the nuclear progress," said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in announcing the threshold of activity.

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Officials with knowledge of the diplomatic proceedings say Germany, too, has joined the foot-draggers on additional sanctions. Though not a permanent Security Council member and therefore not a voter on any resolution, Germany is key to the European diplomatic effort with Tehran and would have to sign on to any sanctions the European Union would approve.

"We would have to have agreement [for more sanctions] among the EU countries first," says a senior European diplomat.

Why Germany would balk now at further punitive action – after Chancellor Angela Merkel said in February 2006 that "we must take the Iranian president's rhetoric seriously" – is unclear. Some analysts cite Germany's strong and expanding economic ties to Iran. Germany is Iran's largest trading partner, and much of Iranian industry relies on German engineering and supplies.

On the other hand, German banks have recently said they are pulling back on activities with Iran as a result of UN and separate US sanctions.

Other experts say at least part of the German diplomatic corps does not want to jump to association with what it fears could become an inexorable path to military action against Iran – led by the US and increasingly given moral support by the French under President Nicholas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Kouchner.

The senior European diplomat, who requested anonymity to more freely discuss the European context for the push for additional sanctions, says the tougher language from French leaders does not mean "they are ready to go for the military option." But it does indicate France shares the US's impatience toward Tehran.

He says the French are saying, "If we can't get this [additional sanctions] in the UN, then let's try outside. We may have to go that route."

What this looks like is more of the "good cop/bad cop" routine that the international community has tried with Iran for several years, but now the French have joined the US on the "bad cop" side. The result, some observers conclude, could be months of discussions in New York.

"I just don't see anything happening soon," says one UN official with close knowledge of the Security Council's workings. The IAEA-Tehran work plan, he says, presents a new wrinkle.

The US mission's Mr. Grenell counters that the "IAEA track doesn't negate the process of resolutions – and that's resolutions, plural – with sanctions."

But the UN official says Mr. ElBaradei's work with Tehran is still likely to have an impact in the Council. "We have to anticipate," he says, "that it could put things off for a few months."