WASHINGTON – A divided United Nations Security Council voted Wednesday to tighten sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, but left widespread doubt that the new strictures will slow the regime’s expanding nuclear program or force it to the negotiating table.
While the vote allowed President Barack Obama to claim a narrow diplomatic win after months of haggling, it also divided world powers in a way that made the prospect of future sanctions seem more remote and a solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions more uncertain.
The Security Council voted 12-2 with one abstention to adopt sanctions that further limit arms sales to Iran, restrict the overseas operations of its banks, add more Iranian companies to a blacklist, and authorize companies to search ships going to or from Iran that might carry prohibited nuclear items.
Despite last-minute lobbying from Western powers, Turkey and Brazil voted against the measure, while Lebanon abstained. Iran dismissed the importance of the sanctions vote.
The sanctions, the fourth such round since 2006, are aimed at forcing Iran to halt a nuclear program that Western powers believe is aimed at acquiring nuclear weapons know-how. Iran insists the expanding program is only for peaceful nuclear uses.
Obama said the resolution “will put in place the toughest sanctions ever faced by Iran, and it will send an unmistakable message about the international community’s commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.”
But while U.S. officials emphasized the importance of Russian and Chinese approval for the sanctions, their support came at the cost of agreements by Western officials to sharply water down the Security Council resolution.
“These are not the crippling sanctions that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had promised about a year ago,” said James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations, who was a national Security Council official in the Clinton administration. “To the contrary.”
The United States had hoped to sharply curtail foreign financial services available to Iran and Iranian enterprises.
But the sanctions approved Wednesday don’t bar many financial services, including insurance or reinsurance, to Iranian individuals or companies. They don’t limit the Islamic Republic’s ability to produce or export oil, its most important export.
Many provisions of the sanctions resolution are essentially optional. For instance, governments can limit financial services provided to Iran by companies under their jurisdiction if the services are believed to further certain nuclear activities.
The resolution also says that governments may inspect ships on the high seas suspected of carrying forbidden items, but only if they have the consent of the country to which a suspicious ship is registered.
The Obama administration hopes to magnify the effect of the sanctions by spurring other countries and groups of countries to impose new and tougher layers of sanctions of their own.