UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, increasing international pressure on Tehran to prove that it is not trying to make nuclear weapons. The Iranian government immediately rejected the resolution.
The result of two months of tough negotiation, the resolution, approved Saturday, orders all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs. It also freezes Iranian assets of 10 key companies and 12 individuals related to those programs.
If Iran refuses to comply, the council warned it would adopt further nonmilitary sanctions, but the resolution emphasized the importance of diplomacy and negotiations in seeking guarantees "that Iran's nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes."
Iran insists its nuclear program is intended to produce energy, but the Americans and Europeans suspect its ultimate goal is the production of weapons.
The Iranian government quickly rejected the resolution, vowing in a statement from Tehran to continue enriching uranium, a technology that can be used to produce nuclear fuel for civilian purposes or fuel for a nuclear bomb. The government said it "has not delegated its destiny to the invalid decisions of the U.N. Security Council."
The United States said it hopes the resolution will clear the way for tougher measures by individual countries, particularly Russia.
"We don't think this resolution is enough in itself," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said in Washington. "We want to let the Iranians know that there is a big cost to them," so they will return to talks, he said.
The U.S. administration had pushed for tougher penalties. But Russia and China, which both have strong commercial ties to Tehran, balked, as did Qatar which sits across the Persian Gulf from Iran. To get their votes, the resolution dropped a ban on international travel by Iranian officials involved in nuclear and missile development and specified the banned items and technologies.
"This resolution is a strong signal to the government of Iran that it should accept its international obligations, suspend its sensitive nuclear activities and accept the negotiations path," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the unanimous vote underlined "yet again that the international community remains united and is determined to see that Iran does not acquire the means to develop nuclear weapons." She urged Iran to comply with the resolution, warning that "if it does not take the steps required to establish that its program is peaceful, the Security Council is determined to act."
The U.N. vote came just a day after talks with North Korea — already under similar but tougher U.N. sanctions for conducting a nuclear test — failed to make any progress in halting that country's atomic program.
Israel, which considers Iran its single greatest threat because President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for the Jewish state's destruction, welcomed the resolution. Mark Regev, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the vote was "an important first step in preventing Iranian nuclear proliferation."
Iran's U.N. Ambassador Javad Zarif denounced the council for imposing sanctions on Iran — which opposes nuclear weapons and has its facilities under U.N. safeguards — while doing nothing about Israel, whose prime minister recently appeared to confirm long held suspicions that it is a nuclear power.
"A nation is being punished for exercising its inalienable rights" to develop nuclear energy, primarily at the behest of the United States and Israel, "which is apparently being rewarded today for having clandestinely developed and unlawfully possessed nuclear weapons," Zarif said.
In a final attempt to win Russian support, the European sponsors circulated a new text late Friday — and that brought Moscow and Beijing on board. Russia's support, however, came only after one Iranian company was dropped from the list of those facing an asset freeze.
Ahead of the vote, Russian President Vladimir Putin called U.S. President George W. Bush, agreeing on the need for a resolution, said Blain Rethmeier, a spokesman for Bush.
"We hope the Russian government is going to work with us in a very active way to send this message of unity to Iran and we hope Russia is going to take a very vigorous approach itself," Burns said after the vote.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow agreed to the resolution because it focuses on measures Iran must take, spelled out by the International Atomic Energy Agency, "to produce confidence in its nuclear program" and "to lift remaining concerns" about its nuclear ambitions.
He stressed that the goal must be to resume talks. If Iran suspends enrichment and reprocessing, the resolution calls for a suspension of sanctions "which would pave the way for a negotiated solution," Churkin said.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya expressed disappointment that Iran has not responded positively to demands to suspend enrichment and clarify its nuclear program, and called for stepped up diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve the issue.
"China wishes to emphasize that sanctions are not the end but a means to urge Iran to resume negotiations," he said.
Acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the United States hopes the resolution will "convince Iran "to abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons and take steps needed to restore international confidence."
"We hope that the Iranian leadership comes to understand that the pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability makes it less, not more secure," he said.
The resolution authorizes action under Article 41 of Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter which allows the Security Council to impose nonmilitary sanctions such as severing diplomatic and economic relations, transportation and communications links. The sanctions are legally binding.
To replace the mandatory travel ban, the resolution now calls on all states "to exercise vigilance" regarding the entry or transit through their territory of the Iranians on the U.N. list. It asks the 191 other U.N. member states to notify a Security Council committee that will be created to monitor sanctions when those Iranians show up in their country.
Under the resolution, the head of the IAEA must report within 60 days on whether Iran has suspended uranium enrichment and complied with other IAEA demands. The council will then review Iran's actions in light of a report.
If the IAEA — the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog — verifies that Iran has suspended enrichment and reprocessing, the resolution says the sanctions will be suspended to allow for negotiations. It says sanctions will end as soon as the IAEA board confirms that Iran has complied with all its obligations.
Before the final text was circulated, Churkin pressed for amendments to ensure that Moscow can conduct legitimate nuclear activities in Iran — a point Churkin stressed Saturday.
Russia is building Iran's first atomic power plant at Bushehr, which is expected to go on line in late 2007. A reference to Bushehr in the original draft was removed earlier — as Russia demanded.
The six key parties trying to curb Iran's nuclear program — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the United States — offered Tehran a package of economic incentives and political rewards in June if it agreed to consider a long-term moratorium on enrichment and committed itself to a freeze on uranium enrichment before talks on its nuclear program.
With Iran refusing to comply with an Aug. 31 council deadline to stop enrichment, the Europeans circulated a draft sanctions resolution in late October, which has been revised several times since then.
But Russia and the Europeans stressed Saturday that the package remains on Iran's table.