UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council will not take up new sanctions against Iran until early next year because of serious differences between the U.S. and key European nations who want tough measures and Russia and China who don't, U.N. diplomats said Wednesday.
The delay in the council's consideration of a third sanctions resolution followed a 90-minute telephone discussion Tuesday of political directors from the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany that highlighted the divide among the key players.
"I think it unlikely, unfortunately, that we will be able to make progress during 2007," Britain's U.N. Ambassador John Sauers told reporters. "We will come back to this issue in 2008."
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya agreed, saying there isn't much time left in December and discussions are still going on in capitals.
"I think it's more likely that it will come in January to the Security Council," he told The Associated Press.
Wang said last week that the new U.S. intelligence finding that Iran halted development of a nuclear bomb four years ago raised questions about new sanctions against Tehran. "I think we all start from the presumption that now things have changed," he said.
Russia and China, both veto-wielding council members and allies of Iran, have grudgingly approved two sets of limited U.N. sanctions to pressure Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. But the Kremlin has bristled at the U.S. push for tougher measures, saying they would only widen the rift with Iran.
U.S. officials in Washington said Monday a preliminary sanctions plan drafted by France would punish the Quds Force, part of Iran's powerful and pervasive Revolutionary Guard Corps, for exporting banned weapons, and Bank Melli, one of Iran's largest banks that the United States included in its own sweeping sanctions program in October.
But U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks have been private, said China opposes any sanctions that would interfere with trade with Iran, and Russia opposes sanctions on any Iranian banks.
"I think there are still wide differences between on the one hand, Britain, France, Germany and the United States, on the other hand Russia and China, as to what that something should be" in a new sanctions resolution, Britain's Sauers said.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said additional pressure on Iran is essential "to incentivize it to cooperate with the international community" and suspend uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for nuclear energy or nuclear bombs.
The new National Intelligence Estimate "has not been helpful in speeding us to get ... agreement on a resolution" but he said talks among the six countries are continuing and the political directors will decide when to transfer the Iran issue to the council.
The United States doesn't expect a transfer "for some days still," but hopefully in December, Khalilzad said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly in September that Tehran would ignore Security Council demands and sanctions imposed by "arrogant powers" to curb its nuclear program.
Instead, he said, Iran had decided to pursue the monitoring of its nuclear program through the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.
In a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon obtained Wednesday by the AP, Iran's U.N. ambassador said the new U.S. intelligence report showed that the pretext for referring Iran's nuclear program to the Security Council was from the outset "flawed and unfounded."
Ambassador Mohammad Khazee rejected the U.S. intelligence finding that Iran was working on a nuclear weapons program before 2003. He called the claim "totally unfounded" and part of a U.S. "fear-mongering campaign ... in order to deliberately mislead the Security Council and push the council to take unlawful action against Iran."
Khazee said the new U.S. intelligence estimate, reports by the IAEA, and statements by international figures and some Security Council members "all testify that Iran neither had any military nuclear program in the past nor does it possess any such a program at present."
Therefore, he said, the council should end "its unlawful consideration of Iran's nuclear issue" and send the dossier back to the IAEA. Any further council involvement will "undermine the credibility and authority of the IAEA," Khazee warned.