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U.S., allies prepare Iran sanctions

Sat., Sept. 22, 2007

WASHINGTON – The United States and its European allies are preparing to impose their own broad military and economic sanctions against Iran if Russia and China balk at voting for a tough new resolution at the United Nations, according to U.S. and European officials.

The breakaway diplomacy would impose a kind of “sanctions of the willing” on Iran, said a Western diplomat, playing off the “coalition of the willing” that was mobilized after diplomacy at the United Nations failed to produce support for military action in Iraq.

The State Department on Friday hosted all-day talks with the four other permanent members of the Security Council – Britain, China, France and Russia – plus Germany to try to hash out the parameters of a new resolution on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York.

In talks the State Department described as “serious and constructive,” the six agreed to proceed, following months of delays, with a third U.N. resolution punishing Iran. But deep differences remain on both substance and timing between the United States and Europeans on one side and Russia and China on the other, said officials from several delegations.

The Bush administration is pushing for the world’s top powers to impose punitive measures that could include sanctioning branches of Iran’s military – such as parts of the Revolutionary Guards’ al-Quds Force – rather than individual military leaders of those units, as in past resolutions, U.S. and Western officials said. The goal is to pressure entities that have allegedly participated in weapons of mass destruction programs, the sources said.

Washington is also looking to curtail Iran’s ability to import military equipment, such as Russian air defense systems. It also wants to tighten the economic noose on banks and companies connected to acquisition of suspicious military material. And it wants to strengthen the travel ban that prevents Iranian officials from traveling, vacationing and other activities abroad, the officials said.

“We want to close all loopholes and suck the oxygen out of the room,” said a U.S. official involved in the diplomacy.

Russia and China have resisted both the scope and the timing of punitive measures proposed by the Bush administration. Moscow and Beijing would prefer to let the new process started by the International Atomic Energy Agency play out for two months and possibly longer, U.S. and European officials said. The agency’s plan calls for Iran to account for questions about its past activities, which Washington claims will allow Tehran to stall.

“The IAEA work plan to resolve past questions is well and good and a necessary part of the answer, but it’s insufficient,” a senior State Department official knowledgeable about the talks said Friday.

Russia also does not want any action on a new resolution before the scheduled Oct. 16 visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Tehran, his first visit to the Islamic republic, European sources said.

Washington has wanted a new resolution, by contrast, since June.

Frustrated by the delay and the diplomatic divide, Washington and its allies are developing a parallel track to the U.N. effort in the event that a third resolution ends up only modestly increasing pressure on Iran – after the first two resolutions passed in December and March proved weak and difficult to implement, the sources said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to meet with the foreign ministers of the “P5-plus-1” countries next Friday at the United Nations to hash out final positions. Participants describe the U.S.-led diplomacy Friday and next week as a last-ditch effort to find common ground.


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