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Sunday, December 24, 2006

U.N. Security Council votes to impose sanctions on Iran

UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to impose sanctions on Iran intended to curtail its nuclear program, ending two months of haggling that highlighted the divisions among council members rather than their unity.

The resolution, delayed by disagreements over how restrictive the penalties should be, bans the transfer of technology and materials that could help Iran build nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. It also demands that Iran immediately suspend uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of spent fuel within 60 days or face further sanctions.

The resolution is the culmination of more than three years of persuasion by the United States, convinced that Iran's nuclear energy program is a cover for developing nuclear weapons know-how. But China and Russia, permanent members of the Security Council, had resisted action that might harm their commercial interests in Iran, and said they feared isolating the Islamic Republic.

The final language included several concessions to Russia and China; nonetheless, Iran immediately rejected the watered-down resolution. "A nation is being punished for exercising its inalienable rights" to develop nuclear energy, Iranian Ambassador Javad Zarif told the council after the vote.

Security Council diplomats trumpeted the strong message the council was sending Iran to compel it to stop enriching uranium and return to talks. But they privately conceded that they did not expect the bans to have a significant effect. Washington is urging its allies to build on the resolution with their own national sanctions.

Alejandro D. Wolff, the acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the resolution was "only a first step" and that harsher sanctions could be in store. "If necessary, we will not hesitate to return to this body for further action if Iran fails to take steps to comply," he said.

European allies had long insisted that carrots would work better than sticks. But after Tehran rejected a package of incentives offered in June to resume talks, then ignored an Aug. 31 Security Council deadline to stop enriching uranium, patience with Iran dwindled. Even Russia said that Iran needed to allay suspicions by heeding the Security Council demand to halt uranium enrichment.

Enriched uranium can be used for producing fuel for nuclear power plants, as well as for nuclear weapons. Tehran insists that it is interested only in generating energy, and will stand by its right to do so.

The government said it would risk further sanctions and continue enrichment. Ali Larijani, Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, told the Kayhan newspaper that Iran would start installing 3,000 centrifuges today at its Natanz enrichment plant in response to the resolution, Reuters reported late Saturday.

The measure also freezes the overseas assets of 10 organizations and 12 Iranian individuals said to be involved in the country's ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

But it did not end up banning travel by those people, in the face of Russian opposition, instead urging countries to report the movements of the officials to a U.N. sanctions committee. It will also allow Russia to continue providing construction help and fuel for an $800-million nuclear plant at Bushehr, which is expected to go online next year.

Russia's objections to elements that it feared would prohibit "legitimate business transactions" forced the council to delay the vote from Friday to Saturday.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin called President Bush on Saturday morning to hammer out final points on the resolution, a White House spokesman said.

At the last moment, Russia succeeded in deleting Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization, which produces missiles, from a list of proscribed companies, but left three of its subsidiaries on the list.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin had said during negotiations that Russia was convinced that sanctions were rarely effective, and that the measures in the resolution were not enough to change Iran's behavior. Instead, he said, the emphasis should be on getting Iran back to the negotiating table, and ensuring that it cooperates with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, to resolve questions about its nuclear program.

In Washington, R. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of State for political affairs, said he hoped the resolution "would open the way for further action outside the Security Council," and that the U.S. was pushing Japan, European governments and international lending agencies to impose their own tough measures on Iran. Some European banks and companies have halted business with Iran in the last year, at the request of the U.S.

"We don't think this resolution is enough in itself," Burns told reporters. "We're certainly not going to put all of our eggs in a U.N. basket."

Zarif, the Iranian ambassador, delivered a long, prepared speech to the council after the vote. He accused the council of upholding a double standard, refusing to sanction Iran's archenemy, Israel, which he declared an "actual threat to international peace and security" for developing a nuclear weapon outside international treaties. Instead, he said, the council punished Iran for pursuing peaceful nuclear energy.

Zarif complained that the U.S. and its European allies were duplicitous in their negotiations and never seriously considered Iranian proposals while it had voluntarily suspended enrichment activities for two years.

"It is now an open secret that their sole objective" has been to take away Iran's rights to develop peaceful nuclear technology, he said.

Wolff, the acting U.S. envoy, responded to Zarif's points about Israel by saying that the council's focus is on Iran's nuclear program, which was developed in secret over 18 years, and its defiance of the council.

"We're dealing with a country that all 15 members of the Security Council had deemed a threat to peace and security," he said. "I urge you not to be distracted from this point."

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