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Iran sanctions likely to rise as election issue

Tehran dismisses latest UN offer on nuclear program, prolonging the debate over more sanctions.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 6, 2008


Iran on Tuesday failed to take up international powers on their offer designed to defuse a deepening nuclear dispute, setting the stage for months of debate over further sanctions against Tehran – and virtually guaranteeing that Iran will figure as a top foreign policy issue in the US presidential campaign.

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In a written response to the latest offer from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, Iran apparently argues for more talks but does not even mention the group's proposal for a freeze on further sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program in exchange for a freeze on uranium enrichment.

That offer was designed to create a window for substantive negotiations on a package of incentives – endorsed by the United States – in exchange for a dismantling of Iran's uranium enrichment activity.

Rejection of the so-called "freeze for freeze" offer made earlier this year by the five permanent Security Council members – Britain, China, France, Russia, and the US – plus Germany, would set in motion discussions of what would be a fourth round of UN sanctions against Tehran.

Still, lack of enthusiasm from China and Russia, and to a lesser degree Germany, for yet more sanctions means debate could stretch past a round of high-level meetings at the UN in September into October, some Western diplomats and nonproliferation experts say.

On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said diplomats from the six major powers would hold another conference call on Iran Wednesday – clearly a message to Tehran that its response is seen as what German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently called "dallying."

Diplomacy effort helps US case

The US is in a better position to press for additional sanctions, some experts say, after the Bush administration reversed its previous course and sent a top diplomat to Geneva last month as part of a high-level international delegation that sat down with the Iranians over the nuclear issue.

"Having advanced its diplomatic steps, the Bush administration is in a stronger position now to argue that Iran hasn't felt enough pressure, and so the right response is to focus their minds with another round" of sanctions, says Jon Wolfsthal, an international security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The risk to another prolonged debate on sanctions, Mr. Wolsfsthal adds, is that if it does not succeed in turning up the heat on Tehran another notch, the Iranians are likely to conclude that they have prevailed. "The US should not pursue another round of sanctions unless it's sure of getting it," he says. "They'd better not go to the well unless they are sure they will be able to bring up some water."