By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
A draft U.N. resolution on Iran circulating among the world's major powers calls for new sanctions against the elite Quds Force and a top Iranian bank as well as "restraint" and "vigilance" on the supply, sale or transfer of arms to Iran, according to sources familiar with the proposal.
The draft, to be discussed today by political experts from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, recommends freezing the assets of entities and individuals suspected of engaging in nuclear proliferation and weapons delivery systems or violating two earlier Security Council sanctions resolutions, the sources said. It also calls for a travel ban -- prohibiting entry or transit in all U.N. member countries -- for many of the same people.
The proposal specifically designates the Quds Force, the foreign operations branch of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, for exporting arms prohibited under previous resolutions and for proliferation activity. It is highly unusual for the world body to sanction a military wing of a member state, officials say. The proposed measure would freeze any of its assets abroad, make business dealings with it illegal and isolate it financially, they add.
The Quds Force numbers up to 15,000 and runs Tehran's foreign covert operations, including arms, aid and training for groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Iraq's Shiite militias, U.S. and European officials say.
The draft of the long-delayed third U.N. sanctions resolution is still being negotiated, and early versions are often tougher than the final product. But its scope is significantly wider than the two previous resolutions, even though it does not go as far as the sweeping sanctions the United States unilaterally imposed in October against the 125,000-member Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force, and three banks, officials say.
Officials from several countries said the proposal indicates that there is still an appetite for significant new punitive measures against Iran even after the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate last week concluded that Tehran had halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago.
"The international community is not being dissuaded by the NIE and is not going to be led down a cul-de-sac because of the noise of the moment. It's still focused on one salient fact. Iran can't run about defying the international community," said a European diplomat. A senior official from a second European country said the intelligence assessment "might complicate things . . . but we do not intend to lessen the pressure."
The resolution is not based on whether Iran has an active nuclear weapons program -- an issue about which the five veto-wielding countries on the Security Council have disagreed. After meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that the NIE "fully confirms the information that we have: that there is no military element in their nuclear program" and added: "We hope very much that these negotiations with Iran will continue."
The European Union has spearheaded talks with Tehran on its nuclear programs and efforts to get it to cooperate with the international community now.
The new resolution instead focuses on Tehran's insistence that it will continue enriching uranium, a process that could in the future be subverted from a peaceful energy program to develop a bomb. Iran now has 3,000 functioning centrifuges, a major technical milestone, giving Tehran the capacity to produce tens of kilograms of low-enriched uranium each month.
On that issue, the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany do share deep concern, diplomats involved in the negotiations say.
"Iran is getting to a stage where they will have weapons-grade enriched uranium," said the European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because negotiations are underway. "Iran is also still in breach of every resolution. Most of the allies -- although Russia and China are dragging their feet -- and a lot of the international community are trying to focus on this in a dispassionate way and say that they're not cooperating with the U.N. mandate."
Still, the draft does not go as far as the Bush administration wants. One compromise has already rolled back a U.S. proposal for a ban on the sale of all arms and military equipment to Iran, calling instead for "restraint and vigilance," which is not legally binding, on arms sales and transfers. Russia and China, which have Security Council vetoes, sell military goods to Iran.
The draft also limits punitive steps to only one of the three banks sanctioned by the United States. The current draft calls for sanctions against Bank Melli, one of Iran's largest banks, sources say.
Moscow and Beijing are likely to have the last word on the final draft, since they have long opposed squeezing Iran too hard. The United States is still hoping for a vote this month, although a senior U.S. official acknowledged that it could slip until after the new year.
Although European officials and Middle East experts agree that the new NIE effectively takes military options off the table, tensions remain high between Washington and Tehran. Iran lashed out at the Bush administration Sunday after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in Bahrain that Iran is trying "everywhere you turn . . . to foment instability and chaos," charging that its "destabilizing" policies are a threat to every Middle East country.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini charged at a news conference that the United States is trying to undermine regional cooperation. As a result of the new U.S. national intelligence estimate, "the U.S. government is disgraced and its decisions will definitely be questioned by world opinion," Hosseini said.
On Saturday, Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari said Iran, the fourth-largest producer of crude oil, has stopped selling its oil in U.S. dollars. "The dollar is no longer a reliable currency," he said.
An International Atomic Energy Agency team is now in Iran for three days of talks that are expected to focus on questions about particles of weapons-grade enriched uranium found by the U.N. watchdog agency at Tehran's Technical University, the Reuters news agency reported.
Rice told a women's foreign policy forum yesterday that the talks, by conference call, would attempt to finalize the draft to put before the Security Council in the next few weeks.
"I have found that most states have found that we have the right strategy, and the key is still to get Iran to stop its enrichment and reprocessing so that we can begin negotiations to meet the legitimate need for civilian nuclear power," Rice said.