Iran sanctions vote signals a global rift
Some developing nations may be starting to sour on push by world powers to control lucrative nuclear technology.
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The resolution is considered an "incremental" increase in pressure on Tehran to halt its enrichment program, according to US officials. It is not expected to force a quick change of heart by Iran.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet there has been a shift of sorts in the international community: Recent diplomatic efforts concerning Iran's nuclear program reflect how the lead in pursuing punitive measures has been largely taken over by European countries.
Western powers have long agreed to play down the US role in the pressure on Iran, some analysts note, to avoid the appearances of a duel between longtime antagonists. "They want to emphasize that it's not the US versus Iran," says Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
But there are other reasons the Europeans are stepping up to the plate more emphatically, analysts say.
One is a matter of urgency mixed with proximity. Documents unveiled last week at the IAEA suggest that Iran, at least at one point, was seeking to build a nuclear warhead. With Iran also developing a long-range missile capable of reaching continental Europe, France and Germany want to avoid a world where they would fall within Iranian nuclear range.
In a statement following the vote on behalf of the foreign ministers of the Britain, France, Germany, the US, China, and Russia, Britain's ambassador to the UN, Sir John Sawers, said the resolution reflects the "ongoing serious concerns about the proliferation risks of the Iranian nuclear program."
The US role in efforts to pressure Iran has also been muddied by the National Intelligence Estimate, publicly released last December. The report concluded that Iran suspended its nuclear weaponization program in 2003. The intelligence estimate confused many countries about the US position and has led to divisions among US agencies and within the White House, some analysts say.
Those internal divisions have only put more emphasis on Europe's leadership role. Europe's strong concerns about Iran were initially expected to be reflected in a separate resolution that Britain, France, and Germany had proposed bringing up this week with the IAEA's board of governors in Vienna. But the proposal ran into a brick wall from nonaligned countries – that is, developing nations expressing views independent of Western powers – and was dropped Tuesday.
An IAEA resolution critical of Iran's actions and its lack of full transparency would have marked the first such action on Iran by the board since the Iran dossier was referred to the Security Council in 2006. But representatives of the Non-Aligned Movement said in Vienna Tuesday that they were adamantly opposed to any action by the board of governors.
"We don't think that there is any need for a draft resolution," said Norma Goicochea Estenoz, Cuba's ambassador to the IAEA and chair of the nonaligned countries' bloc of nations within the IAEA. "In our opinion, it would damage the environment of cooperation and confidence-building between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the agency."
Despite that setback for the Europeans, passage of the new Security Council resolution is expected to pave the way to passage of tougher sanctions by the European Union. The EU last year approved measures that were designed to promote implementation of the second Security Council resolution, but it has not before acted beyond UN measures.
More starch in UN sanctions
December 2006: United Nations Security Council first imposes sanctions, ordering all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs. It also orders countries to freeze the assets of 10 Iranian companies and 12 individuals.
March 2007: Security Council votes to toughen sanctions after Iran expands its enrichment program. It bans Iranian arms exports and orders countries to freeze the assets of 28 additional individuals and organizations.
March 2008: The Council's third resolution, approved Monday, does the following:
•Introduces monitoring of two banks with suspected links to proliferation activities, Bank Melli and Bank Saderat.
•Calls on all countries "to exercise vigilance" in entering into new trade commitments with Iran.
• Orders countries to freeze the assets of 12 additional companies and 13 individuals linked to Iran's nuclear or ballistic-missile programs.
•Bans travel abroad by five individuals linked to Iran's nuclear effort.
•For the first time, bans trade with Iran in goods that have both civilian and military uses and authorizes inspections of shipments to and from Iran by sea and air that are suspected of carrying banned items.
– Compiled by Howard LaFranchi using Associated Press and Reuters reports