U.S., allies present proposal for Iran sanctions

The United States and other major powers, brushing aside Iran’s latest offer to address international concerns about its nuclear program, introduced a detailed list of new U.N. sanctions Tuesday against the Islamic Republic.

The new punitive measures, which would limit arms sales to Iran and authorize searches of ships for suspected weapons, came a day after Iranian leaders, flanked by Brazilian and Turkish officials, announced an agreement on a nuclear material swap that they said should relieve international concerns.

The Iranian offer was received with skepticism by most world powers. U.S., French, German and Russian officials all raised questions about the announcement, noting that Iran would still keep more than a ton of its nuclear stockpile and would continue enriching uranium in its centrifuges.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing at a Senate hearing Tuesday, disclosed that the United States and its Western European allies had finally won agreement from China and Russia on a new sanctions package.

“This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken by Iran over the last few days as any we could provide,” Clinton said.

U.S. and allied officials portrayed the proposed sanctions as a major step but acknowledged that the measures might not be sufficient to force Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program and comply with United Nations demands. The proposal formally presented Tuesday by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council for consideration by the full, 15-member panel would probably be combined with other sanctions imposed by individual countries and groups of nations, which would intensify pressure.

Officials said deliberations within the polarized council could take weeks and might be snarled by the last-minute offer by Iran on Sunday aimed at defusing growing international pressure on Tehran.

The plan worked out with Brazil and Turkey calls for Iran to ship 2,640 pounds of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey under the supervision of Iran and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog. In return, Iran would receive 265 pounds of uranium from France and Russia within a year for use in a small nuclear reactor that produces medical isotopes to treat the ill.

U.S. and allied officials said that although the draft of the sanctions resolution served as a response to the Iranian proposal, they did not water down the punitive measures to make them more acceptable to reluctant countries such as Russia and China.

“The timing was driven by our ability to reach consensus, not other factors,” said a senior Obama administration official who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The sanctions are aimed at further limiting Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons, crimping its ability to conduct trade, and singling out officials and organizations that are key to those processes. The punishments are aimed at penalizing the Revolutionary Guard, the powerful military arm that oversees weapons programs and runs a huge slice of Iran’s economy.

The sanctions package includes intervening in the maritime traffic in suspected weapons and nuclear technology, much like a 2009 resolution aimed at North Korea to block suspected weapons shipments and nuclear traffic.

The sanctions would authorize countries to inspect cargo ships that are in their own territorial waters and are heading to or from Iran if there is reason to suspect that they contain nuclear technology, prohibited weapons or other goods banned by the U.N. The provisions would not allow countries to search ships on the high seas without the vessels’ permission.

Officials said such sanctions against North Korea have proved their worth. In one case, the government in Pyongyang ordered a ship home rather than risk having it searched in a foreign port.

Officials said another important provision would bar sales of eight new categories of weapons to Iran, including tanks, large-caliber artillery, attack helicopters and certain missiles or missile systems. Diplomats said this provision makes an important political point to Iran, because it was adopted with the acceptance of Russia, which has been a key arms supplier to Tehran and has heretofore resisted sanctions on Iran.

The package also sets up a new program of surveillance over all arms sales to Iran.

The provisions do not, however, restrict sales of some high-tech defensive missiles, such as the advanced S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles that Russia has agreed to sell, but has not yet delivered, to Tehran. These missiles would pose a high risk to any air force that sought to bomb Iran, and U.S. officials have been pressuring Moscow to not follow through on the delivery.

Under the proposed sanctions, Iran would be barred from making any investment in another country related to uranium mining, enrichment, production or other such activities.

The sanctions would seek to freeze the assets of companies connected to the Revolutionary Guard and would freeze the assets of and ban international travel by officials who hold jobs related to nuclear activities.

The package could penalize some non-Iranian firms by restricting insurance and reinsurance of Iranian enterprises. It also contains further restrictions on Iranian banking.

Even as it lists strictures, the sanctions package also “restates the council’s commitment to dialogue.”

U.S. and allied officials would like to receive as much support in the Security Council as possible. But diplomats acknowledged that non-permanent council members Turkey and Brazil, having brokered the Iranian nuclear material swap, could abstain from a final vote.

China joined in supporting the resolution, but also warmly welcomed Iran’s proposal, leaving its attitude toward the deliberations somewhat unclear, diplomats said.

Ma Zhaoxu, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said: “We hope this will help promote the peaceful settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiations.”

In Istanbul, Turkey’s top diplomat scolded the U.S. and its Western allies for downplaying the Iranian offer and warned that continued talk of sanctions against the Islamic Republic might scuttle the deal.

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, told reporters that he had kept the Obama administration abreast of developments in the ongoing negotiations but that Iran’s agreement to send the fuel abroad, after it failed to respond to a similar offer last year, stunned Washington.

“I think there is no problem with the text of the deal,” said Davutoglu, according to an account of his news conference “The problem is that they were not expecting that Iran would accept. They had a reflex conditioned on the expectation that Iran will always say ‘no.’ That’s why they were a little bit caught by surprise.”

Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in Beirut contributed to this report.