Major U.N. Security Council powers have agreed on an incremental increase in sanctions on Iran, including a new restriction on exporters doing business with the country, diplomats said Thursday.
A draft resolution also calls for more monitoring of Iran's military and financial institutions, broader travel bans on Iranian nuclear scientists and other key officials, and freezing the assets of people and banks linked to weapons proliferation, Security Council diplomats told The Associated Press.
Diplomats from the five nations with veto power on the council — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — spent a third day negotiating a final agreement on principles that would form the basis for a third round of U.N. sanctions on Iran. They were joined by Germany, which has long been involved in efforts to resolve the Iran nuclear dispute.
The general terms were hammered out in Berlin earlier this week, chiefly through negotiations between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Those elements have been closely held, though they have begun circulating among the rest of the 15-member council.
Russia and China, which have strong business ties with Iran, resisted earlier British and French draft principles pushing for harsher sanctions if Iran keeps refusing to stop enriching uranium — a process that can provide fuel for a nuclear reactor or fissile material for a bomb.
Iran says its nuclear program seeks only to generate electricity.
The Bush administration continues to press the case that Iran tests ballistic missiles, enriches uranium toward building an atomic bomb, hides information and remains in violation of two previous U.N. Security Council resolutions.
On Wednesday, Russia said the new resolution would not impose harsh sanctions against Iran.
But Nicholas Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, rejected that claim Thursday, saying the resolution was "meant to be punitive."
He said the draft increases travel restrictions on Iranian nuclear scientists, bans trade in items that can be used for nuclear purposes and freezes more Iranian assets.
Because it lacks significant trade with Iran, the United States must rely on influencing other major nations to apply economic pressure on the country.
Security Council diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations were sensitive, said the new resolution would impose new credit restrictions on exporters. Such measures could complicate matters for nations such as Germany and Italy that are major trading and investment partners with Iran and have billions of dollars of export credits at risk. The proposed resolution would make it more difficult to obtain those credits.
Diplomats say a third round of sanctions is unlikely to be approved until next month after the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog based in Vienna, receives more answers from Iran. Iran agreed to answer all remaining questions about its nuclear activities after IAEA director Mohammed Elbaradei visited Tehran in January.
Bush's contention that Iran poses a worrisome threat suffered a setback when U.S. intelligence said in December that Iran halted active work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
That has "made things complicated" for the United States, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Thursday.
"It's important to get the international community focused on Iran," she told the AP. "I do think it's not just an American issue."
Burns, who was in Israel for talks that focused on the Iran nuclear dispute, said he hoped the new resolution would showed that the world remained determined that Iran comply with U.N. orders.
"The Iranians have been kind of crowing publicly that the Security Council is not going to act, the Security Council is not unified, and I think they saw that the five leading members, the five permanent members, are united," Burns said. "Iran should now understand that it remains in isolation."
Burns said the possibility of a military strike against Iran's nuclear program did not come up in his talks with Israeli officials. He rejected as "very extremist" remarks in Israel this week by John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., that Israel must gear up for its own attack on Iran.
"We are not giving up on diplomacy and we will not give up as long as there is a chance it can succeed," he said.