New sanctions for Iran delayed

Times Staff Writer

united nations -- Six major world powers agreed Friday to delay a vote on tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program until December, after Tehran answers questions from the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

The United States and France had sought quick action on a third set of economic and political penalties and had hoped that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s defiant declaration at the U.N. this week that the issue was “closed” would add momentum to the process.

But China and Russia said they wanted to hear the result of meetings between the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Iran’s national security chief, Ali Larijani, and to give the International Atomic Energy Agency a chance to resolve doubts about Iran’s nuclear activities.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei made a deal with Iran to address a series of outstanding questions one by one instead of in parallel, which some fear will string out an issue that has been on the U.N. Security Council agenda for more than three years.

Reports are expected from Solana and ElBaradei by the end of November.


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had criticized ElBaradei’s unilateral move this month, saying the agency had overstepped its bounds. “The IAEA is not in the business of diplomacy,” she said. “It’s a technical agency,” she added, which should follow the dictates of its board of governors -- including the United States.

In the meantime, the ministers of the U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany agreed to prepare the resolution with harsher sanctions than the two sets of asset freezes, travel bans, and penalties on companies already imposed on Iran.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner refused to characterize the delay as a setback, though he had been pushing for action in October.

“The meeting was a success because we are still together, on two tracks -- negotiations and sanctions,” he said. “There is a good compromise.”

Kouchner said the ministers discussed 14 kinds of sanctions, including financial and investment restrictions, travel and visa bans, an arms embargo, and possible limits on trade in oil and gas. Some penalties target Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which operates many companies dealing with energy and technology that can fund and procure equipment that can be used for nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

The U.S. has unilateral sanctions on Iran and has persuaded several European banks to suspend business with the country. France has followed suit, reducing its own investment in Iran by 50% and encouraging private companies such as oil giant Total to freeze investment .

Rice has been pressing other European nations to take similar measures, while they wait for Moscow and Beijing to agree to United Nations sanctions -- a process that could take months.

“Changing course is up to the Iranian regime,” Rice said. “But I do know that with every day the Iranian regime is watching as more and more financial institutions decide not to do business with Iran, as more and more governments reduce their export credits for Iran, and that people consider what other measures are available to them.”

Iran’s foreign minister, speaking Friday at the Asia Society in New York, said that sanctions would not persuade Tehran to give up its legal nuclear energy program.

“Sanctions as a political tool for exerting pressure is ineffective in making Iran change its basically rational policy choice,” Manouchehr Mottaki said.