The UN Security Council was to begin on 21 March a crucial bargaining on whether to approve new UN sanctions against Iran as proposed by six major powers or accept some amendments.
The sanctions package is contained in a draft resolution agreed last week by ambassadors of the Council’s five veto-wielding members (P5)— Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany.
The draft, which toughens UN sanctions already imposed in December in response to Tehran’s continued refusal to halt sensitive nuclear fuel work, was presented last week to the Council’s 10 non-permanent members for their comments.
The closed-door meeting marks the first time envoys of all 15 council members have an opportunity to compare notes on the text and on amendments offered by South Africa, Qatar and Indonesia.
The council members also were to decide when to put the text to a vote, with the Western sponsors hoping this could happen as early as this week.The United Nations, meanwhile, is gearing up for the imminent arrival of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who wants to address the Security Council when it votes on the new sanctions resolution.
Washington said it approved visas for Ahmadinejad and his delegation and the US acting ambassador to the UN, Alejandro Wolff, said on20 March that, although he was not aware of the Iranians’ travel plans, “I assume they will be in time for adoption of the resolution.”
The new draft bans Tehran from exporting arms, calls for voluntary trade sanctions and expands a list of officials and companies targeted for financial and travel restrictions.
South Africa has proposed a 90-day suspension of the UN sanctions to allow “space for technical discussions at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear monitoring agency) and political negotiations (with Tehran) ... to achieve a peaceful and negotiated solution.”
South Africa, a non-permanent member which chairs the Council this month, also put forward other amendments, including deleting the weapons ban and many financial sanctions, which if accepted would gut much of the draft, according to Western diplomats.
A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on 20 March that Qatar and Indonesia also proposed amendments which he said were more acceptable to the draft’s sponsors than the South African proposals.
“We have a very good draft resolution text that builds on the 1737 framework (the Security Council sanctions resolution adopted in December). It has met with the agreement of the P5 and other members of the Council,” Wolff said.
“Others still have some questions and additional ideas, we will hear them out and look forward to getting this resolution adopted this week ... It’s not a take-it-or-leave-it text, we will discuss ideas and how to improve it,” he added.
Asked about South Africa’s call for a 90-day time-out in the UN sanctions, Wolff replied, “Resolution 1737 in essence already calls for suspension by the Council of all measures once Iran verifiably suspends its activities. There’s your time-out, it’s built into 1737.”
South Africa, which dismantled its nuclear weapons programme during its 1990s transition to democracy, has consistently defended Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful use.
On 20 March Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki discussed the nuclear standoff with South African President Thabo Mbeki in Cape Town for about an hour but there was no word on what they said.The West fears Iran aims to produce nuclear weapons with the enriched uranium, but Tehran insists the fuel is for peaceful energy purposes only.