UN Security Council approves new, 'binding' Iran sanctions

A resolution in favor of a fourth round of Iran sanctions cleared the UN Security Council Wednesday, 12 to 2 (with one abstention). China and Russia, increasingly unhappy with Iran's noncooperation regarding its nuclear program, joined the majority.

Richard Drew/AP
The members of the UN Security Council vote on Iran sanctions during a session Wednesday.

The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday approved a US-sponsored resolution of sanctions on Iran aimed at Tehran’s advancing nuclear program, ending a six-month diplomatic push by the Obama administration to signal international displeasure with Iran's current course.

Passed by a 12-to-2 vote, the resolution focuses on Iran’s nuclear-related investments and what some nuclear experts see as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ growing involvement in the nuclear program, which Tehran insists is solely for providing nuclear power to Iran's civilians. The resolution also targets Iran’s ballistic missiles program, and it authorizes countries to board Iran-bound ships to search them for banned cargo.

The resolution will be hobbled going forward by “no” votes from Brazil and Turkey, two nonpermanent members of the 15-member council and both considered influential powers in the Iranian nuclear confrontation. (Nonpermanent member Lebanon abstained in the Wednesday morning vote.)

But unanimity in support of the resolution among the council’s five permanent members – including China and Russia – represents a blow to Iran and its international standing. The resolution is also seen as a green light for the US, the European Union, and other countries to proceed to even harsher and more comprehensive sanctions on their own.

The Obama administration has been working with Congress, for example, to hold off on some popular bipartisan legislation targeting Iran’s energy sector until the US completed its diplomatic press at the UN. And some European officials in Washington have said recently they expect momentum for additional European Union measures to grow with passage of the UN resolution.

Speaking in London Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the new resolution would provide a “legal platform” for “individual nations to then take additional actions that go well beyond the resolution itself." He added, “I believe a number of nations are prepared to act pretty promptly."

China and Russia did whittle out some of the resolution’s toughest measures – notably on Iran’s energy sector – during weeks of negotiations on a draft text. But in the end the two powers, increasingly unhappy with Tehran’s lack of cooperation with the UN about its nuclear program, went along with a list of measures aimed at Tehran’s nuclear advances and weapons systems.

“Certainly it’s a positive getting this resolution passed. And while it would have been stronger with a unanimous vote, the important objectives here were Russia and China,” says Paul Saunders, executive director of the Nixon Center in Washington. Noting that President Obama has a summit meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev later this month, he add, “It would have been a major diplomatic setback not to have Russia’s vote.”

A vote on the resolution – the fourth set of sanctions approved by the Security Council in the long-running international standoff with Iran over its nuclear ambitions – was delayed when Turkey and Brazil last month brokered a fuel-swap agreement with Tehran designed to reduce international concerns over Iran’s continuing uranium enrichment.

Turkey and Brazil announced the agreement as a way of staving off new international sanctions. But the US and other Western powers quickly rebuffed the proposal as too little too late – especially since it did not require Iran to stop enriching uranium.

Some diplomatic experts see Wednesday’s “no” votes from Turkey and Brazil as reflecting the two countries’ disappointment over international rejection of their fuel-swap plan. Still, US officials in New York, including US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, were adamant that the resolution, once passed, includes a set of “binding” measures that must now be internationally enforced.


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