Sanctions On Iran Approved By U.N.

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 24, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 23 -- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to restrict Iran's trade in sensitive nuclear materials and to freeze the assets of 22 Iranian officials and institutions linked to the country's most controversial nuclear programs.

The council's action culminated more than three years of diplomatic efforts by the United States to have Iran sanctioned for expanding its enrichment of uranium. But Russia, a close commercial partner of Iran, stripped the resolution of some of its toughest measures, including a travel ban on officials linked to the nuclear programs.

The resolution demands that Iran immediately suspend its enrichment program and its reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel within 60 days or face additional U.N. penalties. It calls on Tehran to begin talks with the Security Council's five permanent powers and Germany to allay international suspicions that it may be pursuing nuclear weapons.

Although some critics suggested that the council resolution was too weak to compel Iran to change its behavior, the Bush administration, which favored tougher measures, said it was still pleased with the final version, saying it increases Iran's international isolation. Some U.S. officials said suppliers have already cut off Iran from shipments of sensitive nuclear equipment, partly as a result of U.S. pressure.

U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns called the vote "humiliating" for Iran.

He said the vote "would open the way for further action outside the Security Council" and added that the United States would continue to press Japan, European governments and international financial agencies to impose their own penalties on Iran.

"We don't want to put all our eggs in the U.N. basket," Burns said.

Javad Zarif, Iran's U.N. ambassador, denounced the council's "groundless punitive measures" and denied that his country had any intention of developing nuclear weapons. He said the council's failure to sanction Israel, whose prime minister inadvertently suggested this month that his country is a nuclear power, proves its bias against Iran.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told Iran's state-run television that the enrichment program will continue at a facility in Natanz, Reuters reported. The speaker of Iran's parliament, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, warned that Iran would have to reconsider its relations with U.N. inspectors monitoring the country's nuclear activities.

Iran has the right under the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to produce nuclear energy as long as it forswears the pursuit of nuclear warheads. But in July, the Security Council, citing Iran's history of violating the pact, adopted a resolution that required Tehran to suspend nuclear enrichment and reprocessing by Aug. 31 or face sanctions. Iran refused to comply with the demand.

The United States says Iran has been secretly developing a nuclear weapons program for more than 18 years. The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, maintains that a two-decade-long "policy of concealment" by Iran's nuclear scientists has helped fuel such suspicions. But it cannot prove that Iran has ever diverted nuclear fuel to a weapons program.

After Iran ignored the council's Aug. 31 deadline, Britain, France and Germany proposed a sweeping series of sanctions in October, including a travel ban on certain officials and a trade ban on materials used in most of Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But those measures drew intense resistance from China and Russia.

Moscow's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, argued that sanctions should be narrowly targeted at Iran's prohibited activities while allowing development of its nuclear energy industry, including an $800 million Russian nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran. The goal of the resolution, he said, should be focused on getting Iran to the negotiating table.

"I hope the reaction of Iran is going to be constructive in order to open the way for negotiations," Churkin said after Saturday's vote.

Senior Bush administration officials had expressed concern that Iran would use legal nuclear programs at Bushehr and other facilities as a cover to smuggle goods to an illicit weapons program. But the United States ultimately yielded to Russia after concluding it was better to have a weak resolution than none.

Saturday's resolution was designed to prevent Iran from obtaining access to sensitive nuclear equipment. It also sought to prevent Iranian scientists from carrying out foreign studies that could advance their country's ability to develop nuclear weapons.

The resolution will freeze the assets of 10 officials -- including the directors of Iran's main nuclear facilities and the commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iranian Air Force -- linked to the nuclear programs. The asset freeze also applies to 12 institutions, including Iran's Atomic Energy Agency. In response to Russian demands, the council dropped an Iranian state missile manufacturer, Aerospace Industries Organization, from the list. But three of the company's subsidiaries remain on it.

The resolution also calls for a ban on trade related to "nuclear missile delivery systems" and demands that Iran halt work on a heavy-water research reactor at Arak, 150 miles south of Tehran. Such facilities can be used in the production of weapons-grade plutonium.

Critics said the vote shows that Iran is proving impervious to Security Council pressure, particularly in light of the council's unwillingness to hit the oil-rich country with harsh sanctions, such as an oil embargo.

"I've always thought that the course the Bush administration is pursuing in the Security Council is a feckless one," said Flynt Leverett, a former CIA analyst who has advocated direct U.S. negotiations with Iran. "There is no way the permanent members of the council are going to agree to any sort of sanction that might actually have any chance" of changing Iran's behavior.

Leverett noted that several Arab governments, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, recently announced they would launch their own nuclear energy programs.

"They are hedging their bets" against Iran becoming the world's next nuclear power, he said.

Staff writer Dafna Linzer contributed to this report.

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