Six Powers Back U.N. Draft on Iran

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The United States and five other major powers agreed yesterday on a new draft U.N. resolution on Iran, but the compromise incorporates weakened language that calls only for "vigilance" or "monitoring" of financial and military institutions without most of the tough economic sanctions sought by the Bush administration, according to European officials familiar with its text.

To break an eight-month deadlock, the Bush administration accepted a plan that includes largely voluntary monitoring of transactions involving two banks, and calls for restraints on export credits, cargo traffic and business involving individuals or institutions linked to proliferation. The toughest restriction is a travel ban on key officials, the European officials said.

The final talks in Berlin were dominated by intense negotiations between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to U.S. and European officials. Announcing an agreement afterward, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier acknowledged that the lengthy diplomacy to get a draft "was not always all that easy."

The U.N. Security Council passed two earlier resolutions, in December 2006 and March 2007, calling for Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium, a process that can be used to produce peaceful energy as well as deadly weapons. It promised a third resolution if Iran did not comply in 60 days. Washington hoped that new sanctions would add more meaningful pressure.

But Russia and China, which do significant business with Iran, resisted earlier British and French drafts -- inspired by Washington -- that called for asset freezes on Iranian banks and parts of the military, including the elite Quds Force, as well as a ban on arms sales to Iran. All these measures were either dropped or watered down.

At this stage, the draft itself is the primary achievement, diplomats say. "This will come as a rude shock to the Iranians," departing Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said in an interview. "They had been predicting that the Security Council was no longer unified enough to pass a third resolution, and they were wrong. The council will pass this resolution in several weeks, and it will add to the international pressure on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment."

European envoys say the main impact of a new resolution may be the psychological effect on international financial transactions and institutions, which have already cut back their dealings with Iran. The new draft calls for U.N. member states to "monitor" financial activities with Bank Melli and Bank Saderat, two of Iran's biggest banks. It also calls for vigilance on export credits to Iran, a provision dropped from a previous resolution at China's insistence, diplomats say.

"It's going to be more difficult for Iran to do business," said a European diplomat. "It sends a useful political message that Iran is not off the hook and at a good time in the electoral cycle." Iran is set to hold parliamentary elections in March, usually a harbinger of what will happen in the next presidential election, due next year. The U.S. goal is to isolate the Tehran government in ways that would lead the population to turn against it at the polls.

Britain, France and Germany will co-sponsor the resolution, which will be shared with the 10 nonpermanent Security Council members this week. It is not expected to be put to a vote until next month, after Libya's council presidency ends.

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