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Can UN's latest Iran sanctions be a game-changer?

This new round of Iran sanctions, approved Wednesday by the UN Security Council, won't on its own stop Iran's nuclear program, say most analysts. But it will raise the cost Tehran pays, both diplomatic and financial, for its nuclear pursuits.

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The draft resolution the Obama administration originally offered at the Security Council included sanctions on Iran’s energy sector, but those were stripped out over Russian and Chinese objections.

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Indeed, the expectation that the UN resolution would not affect Iran’s nuclear course was a common theme among foreign-policy analysts reacting to the council’s action.

“These are not the crippling sanctions that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had promised about a year ago,” says James Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “The end result,” he adds in a commentary on the resolution, “is that the high-stakes game of chicken over Iran’s nuclear program will continue.”

Melissa Labonte, an international relations expert at Fordham University, calls the resolution “pure window-dressing.” It is, she says, “unlikely to bring Iran to the negotiating table and probably won’t stop the Iranians from developing military nuclear capacity.”

The Arms Control Association’s Mr. Kimball says that because Iran is almost certain not to alter its course immediately as a result of the UN action, “It’s important to remember that there is still time for diplomacy to work.”

Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium is “not enough to create a strategically significant nuclear arsenal,” he says. He believes that Iran “remains years away from a deliverable nuclear weapons arsenal.”

Just how much time the international community has for diplomacy to alter Iran’s nuclear ambitions will remain a hotly debated question, but the image of a window still open for a diplomatic solution was repeatedly employed in Western capitals Wednesday.

In a statement on the resolution’s adoption, the foreign ministers of the Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany said the council’s action “keeps the door open for continued engagement between [the six powers] and Iran.”

In a lengthy statement to the Security Council before Wednesday’s vote, Iran’s UN ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, concluded by saying that “no amount of pressure and mischief will be able to break our nation’s determination to pursue and defend its legal and inalienable rights.” Iran “will never bow to the hostile actions and pressures by these few powers,” he said.

Seeming to disregard those words, the six foreign ministers said, “We expect Iran to demonstrate a pragmatic attitude and to respond positively to our openness towards dialogue and negotiations.”

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