Reuters: The United States on Friday played down the chance of major powers agreeing on new U.N. sanctions against Iran when ministers meet in Berlin next week, underlining discord over how to proceed with Tehran.
By Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON, Jan 18 (Reuters) – The United States on Friday played down the chance of major powers agreeing on new U.N. sanctions against Iran when ministers meet in Berlin next week, underlining discord over how to proceed with Tehran.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said there was still no agreement among major powers on a third U.N. Security Council resolution against Iran over its nuclear program.
Russian and China have stiffened opposition to putting more pressure on Iran since a U.S. intelligence report last month concluded Tehran halted its atomic weapons program in 2003. The United States, however, has used increasingly harsh language against Iran in recent weeks as it spearheads the drive for more punitive measures against Tehran.
McCormack said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and foreign ministers from the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — China, Russia, France and Britain — as well as Germany, would keep working on the sanctions resolution during the talks on Tuesday.
“We are optimistic that we will eventually be able to get a resolution,” he said. “We would have wished that we had had one by now but that is multilateral diplomacy for you.”
Asked whether he was hopeful the ministers would agree on elements of a resolution during the Berlin talks on Tuesday, McCormack said: “It might take a little longer.”
In recent days, McCormack has sought to lower expectations for the Berlin meeting, saying it would look not only at sanctions but at what the strategy should be going forward.
“You might term it a brainstorming session, about what are the diplomatic pathways available to us, so that we can pressure the Iranian regime to make a different set of choices regarding its behavior in the international system. That’s the whole object of the exercise here,” he said.
Since the U.S. national intelligence estimate was released last month, a Western diplomat said the Russians and Chinese had become “more difficult to handle” in Iran negotiations.
Several diplomats and a senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition they were not identified, said Washington wanted to target more Iranian state banks in a new resolution. The United States also wants to get nations to sanction business entities that supported Tehran’s nuclear and missile programs.
Russia, in particular, is balking at this and has support from China, several diplomats said.
“Draconian” measures such as sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas sector were not an option, McCormack said this week.
In June 2006, major powers offered Iran a package of incentives to give up enrichment work, including Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and help with building light water reactors. Other incentives were allowing the export of civilian airline parts and promoting Tehran’s membership in the World Trade Organization.
Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter, says its uranium enrichment is aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more oil and gas while the West says it is trying to build a bomb.
Nonproliferation expert Sharon Squassoni from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said instead of talking about more sanctions, the approach could be to tweak some of the 2006 incentives to make them more attractive to Tehran.
However, in recent weeks U.S. officials have said more incentives for Iran is not an option.
The Bush administration has just a year left in office and Squassoni said time was limited to have a change of course. (Editing by Bill Trott)