Iran defiant despite new Security Council sanctions
The Security Council unanimously adopted new sanctions against Iran on Saturday over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment -- a move meant to show that Tehran’s defiance would leave it increasingly isolated, but compliance would bring it rewards.
Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, immediately decried the U.N. resolution, calling it “unlawful” and an “abuse” of the Security Council’s power.
Mottaki, insisting that Iran was not developing nuclear weapons, said his country would never stop its enrichment activities or give up its right to develop nuclear energy.
“Suspension is neither an option nor a solution,” he told the Security Council, which voted amid diplomatic tensions heightened by Iran’s seizure Friday of 15 British naval personnel in the Persian Gulf.
Mottaki spoke in place of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said he could not come for the session because his flight crew did not receive their visas in time, a contention the United States disputed.
U.S. Ambassador Alejandro D. Wolff warned that if Iran didn’t stop enrichment within 60 days, the council was ready to impose more sanctions.
“The unanimous passage of Resolution 1747 sends a clear and unambiguous message to Iran: The regime’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability ... will only further isolate Iran and make it less, not more secure,” Wolff said after the vote.
The resolution is the third in a series of Security Council measures aimed at compelling Iran to halt uranium enrichment and provide answers about its nuclear program, which it developed in secret for nearly 20 years. Enriched uranium can be used for nuclear power, or if highly refined, for atomic weapons.
The first measure came in July after Iran rejected a European offer to help it develop light water power plants with no weapons applications and the Security Council demanded Iran halt its nuclear program or face sanctions.
The second was in December, when the Security Council first imposed sanctions, banning the supply of nuclear and missile technology to Iran, and freezing the assets of 10 key Iranian companies and people related to those programs.
A European incentives package promising investment, technological assistance and partnership in a nuclear power program has remained on the table, but Iran has rejected it. The package would take the technology to develop a complete fuel cycle -- and the potential for developing nuclear weapons -- out of Iran’s hands. The council has promised to suspend sanctions after Iran verifiably suspends enrichment activities.
“Iran must make its choice,” British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said.
The Security Council promised more sanctions if Iran did not respond within 60 days to Saturday’s resolution, which bans Iranian arms exports and freezes the assets of 28 people and organizations involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. It also asks countries to monitor the travel of designated individuals, restrict arms sales and curb financial assistance to Iran.
Some of the sanctions are aimed at new targets. The resolution freezes assets of commanders in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and cuts off trade with some companies related to the corps, alleging they are involved in Iran’s missile program and provide support for foreign militant groups.
It also freezes the assets of the state-owned Bank Sepah, as the U.S. did in January, stating that it financed the procurement of missile technology.
Most Security Council members emphasized that the sanctions were not intended to hurt the Iranian people, but to compel the government to halt its nuclear program and return to talks.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that his government thought sanctions were often ineffective, and that he regretted that Bank Sepah’s depositors might be affected. “The way to get rid of those nuisances is to have a negotiated solution,” he said.
The sanctions were not as tough as the U.S., Britain and France had originally hoped. Negotiations whittled out a ban on export credits, which the Russians and Chinese argued would affect regular trade, made a travel ban voluntary, and changed a mandatory embargo on arms sales to Iran into a request that countries “exercise restraint and vigilance.” China has been a significant supplier of missile technology to Iran.
Hopes of diplomacy
Although all 15 council members backed the resolution in order to send a strong message of isolation to Iran, not all were happy with the escalation of penalties. “It is impossible to resolve the issue fundamentally by imposing sanctions and pressure only,” said Wang Guangya, China’s ambassador. “Diplomatic talks remain the best option.”
Qatar’s ambassador, Nassir Abdulaziz Nasser, said that “sanctions complicate matters sometimes.”
The resolution included several concessions to South Africa, Indonesia and Qatar. It included language encouraging a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, an oblique reference to Israel’s suspected nuclear weapons. It also emphasized the role of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency as a neutral arbiter of Iran’s compliance.
The sanctions are beginning to pinch Iran, especially as oil prices fall, say analysts, but that may not be enough to change its behavior.
“I don’t think the Iranians are simply going to fold their tent,” said James Dobbins, a former assistant secretary of State, and the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corp.
“They are going to insist on the right to develop an entire fuel cycle, and thus develop nuclear weapons capability. But they are also willing to accept a fairly intrusive verification regime to ensure they are not going over the line,” he said. “A lot of people feel there is a deal to be had here if the two sides stop talking across each other and start talking to each other.”
The diplomatic row after the Friday morning capture of 15 British personnel by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf added tension to the U.N. Security Council vote. Without mentioning the incident directly, Chinese Ambassador Wang urged all sides to “keep calm” and “refrain from any actions that may lead to deterioration, or escalation of the tension.”
The incident has set off a flurry of diplomatic meetings and posturing. Iran said the Britons were being held for violating its territorial waters whereas British and U.S. military officials insisted that the Iranian gunships had crossed into Iraqi waters. On Saturday, officials in London summoned the Iranian ambassador for a second time, demanding the prompt return of the personnel and boats.
Iranian officials said the sailors had been transported from a base in the southwest to Tehran for “interrogations and investigations,” according to reports in state-run news outlets. However, British diplomats and Iranian foreign ministry officials in the capital said they had no information about the troops’ whereabouts or condition.
British officials have emphasized that the incident could have been a mistake. But Iranian officials sounded as if they were in no mood to ease out of the situation.
An Iranian army general said Saturday that the eight British sailors and seven marines had “confessed” during interrogations to violating Iranian territorial waters.
“The captured British sailors are under interrogation and admitted in the interrogation that they have transgressed Iranian territorial waters,” Army Gen. Ali Reza Afshar, deputy chief of staff, told ISNA news agency.
Some officials in Tehran wondered whether the incident was meant to sabotage the Iranian delegation that traveled to New York to address the council.
“This is an essential pattern in Iranian politics,” said a Western diplomat in Tehran, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Whenever there is a decision to be made, someone does something to damage the moderate option.”
Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in Tehran contributed to this report.