U.S., Britain Drafting Stricter Iran Sanctions

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 23, 2007

The United States and Britain are preparing drafts for a punishing new U.N. resolution against Iran that could impose sweeping travel bans on the country's top military and security officials, require inspections on its cargo flights and ships, forbid all import and export of arms shipments, and freeze the assets of major Iranian banks, according to U.S. and European officials.

The new Security Council resolution would be the third against Iran for failing to comply with a U.N. resolution demanding a freeze of Tehran's uranium enrichment program. That program produces peaceful nuclear energy but could also be subverted to develop the world's deadliest weapon.

The U.S. and British drafts, which overlap in many places, are designed to greatly ratchet up the pressure on Tehran. The two previous resolutions, in December and March, imposed limited sanctions that have had marginal impact.

"This one can't just be another piece of paper. It has to have some bite to it," said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because discussions are ongoing. "The notion that it is serious communicates something important."

But the common ideas in both drafts could face significant resistance from Russia and China, two of the five Security Council members that have veto power. They have both been able to water down earlier resolutions on Iran.

The American draft calls for mandatory travel bans against an extensive list of senior officials from Iran's intelligence and defense ministries. It also calls for increasing pressure on Iran's financial institutions, although specific targets have not yet been identified. "We want to suck the oxygen out of the room on their finances," the U.S. official said.

The U.S. draft would also require a total ban on weapons to and from Iran. "There are a lot of loopholes. So far it's only been half a shutdown. This would cover all exports and imports of any kind, even for self-defense. We want a total ban," the U.S. official said.

In another provision, the U.S. draft calls for all Iranian cargo flights and maritime shipments to be inspected when they stop in other countries to ensure that they are not carrying sanctioned goods or arms. There are a range of options on this provision, from "requiring" inspection and "should" inspect, to "calls upon" to inspect. A similar provision imposed on North Korea, for example, "calls upon" countries to inspect North Korean planes and ships, which is the weakest of the three options, a second U.S. official said yesterday.

The British draft, first reported by Reuters yesterday, is more detailed, according to U.S. and European officials. One provision calls for countries to "deny permission to take off from, land in or overfly their territories or berth in or secure passage through their territorial waters, of all aircraft or vessels owned or controlled by Iranian airlines or shipping companies," Reuters reported.

It calls on the international community to freeze any assets of Bank Melli and Bank Saderat, which would seriously hurt Iran's ability to do international business. The United States already has imposed unilateral sanctions on Bank Saderat.

"These are confidential discussions and we will not comment on the details, as is the normal practice," a British Embassy official said yesterday.

But a diplomat who has seen the draft said, "U.N. Security Council resolutions don't get plucked out of the air. It takes weeks of talking to get to a final resolution, and there are no guarantees that there are any provisions in this draft that will get to a final resolution."

Iran has faced the possibility of new sanctions since failing to meet a 60-day deadline set in the previous resolution. New momentum behind a third resolution is expected if Iran fails to agree to suspend enrichment at talks today between European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian national security adviser Ali Larijani.

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