US may seek tougher stance on Iran

The United States indicated today that it wants tougher sanctions on Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment than the measures in a UN resolution drafted by Britain, France and Germany.

European diplomats said the proposed sanctions – banning the sale of missile and atomic technology to Iran and ending most UN help for its nuclear programmes - are the best hope of winning Russian and Chinese backing.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the draft resolution is not yet public, said the proposal also would commit UN member nations to denying entry to Iranian officials involved in developing missiles or nuclear systems.

Russia and China have major commercial ties with Iran and are veto-wielding members of the Security Council along with the US, Britain and France.

France said today that the European draft had been circulated to the other permanent council members. The five permanent members are expected to meet in the next day or two to discuss the European draft.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today that the Europeans, who have been the main negotiators with Iran, were left with “no choice” but to pursue sanctions after Tehran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

“There must be no Iranian nuclear programme,” Ms Merkel said during a speech in Berlin.

The United States, which has consistently pushed for tough sanctions to punish Iran for defying a Security Council resolution to suspend enrichment by August 31, indicated the European proposals were too weak.

“We look forward to a full meeting of the five permanent members where we will obviously have American changes to the proposed European text,” said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the US Mission to the United Nations. He refused to comment on any US proposals.

Both Russia and China have agreed in principle to imposing sanctions over Iran’s defiance of the council ultimatum to freeze uranium enrichment and sharply improve cooperation with the UN probe of suspect Iranian atomic activities. But both continue to publicly push for dialogue instead of punishment, despite the collapse last month of a European Union attempt to entice Iran into talks.

The EU proposed Iran at least temporarily freeze enrichment as a condition for multilateral talks aimed at erasing suspicions it may be trying to build nuclear arms in violation of its treaty commitments.

Iran has shrugged off the threat of sanctions. While Security Council members focus on sanctions, Iran has expanded its controversial nuclear work by starting a second cascade of centrifuges to enrich uranium, a semi-official news agency reported today.

The European proposal to cancel technical assistance to Iran from the UN nuclear watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, would do little to ease fears that Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

But as the first such withdrawal of IAEA help, it would send a strong signal of international displeasure with Tehran.

IAEA technical programmes, which are freely available to all member countries, are restricted to medical or agricultural help, nuclear safety expertise and other peaceful applications that cannot be diverted for weapons purposes.

Typical projects, as listed in a confidential IAEA document seen by AP, involve the disposal of radioactive waste produced by nuclear reactors and the use of narrowly targeted radiotherapy for tumours.

In a bow to Russia, the European draft resolution exempts IAEA technical cooperation on operational safety and legal advice at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear facility being built by the Russians – despite US demands that the controversial project be halted entirely under the sanctions.

The Bushehr facility would be Iran’s first atomic power plant.

According to UN diplomats, Russia reportedly wants an exemption from any sanctions for the initial plant at Bushehr.

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