Key Western powers have sent Russia and China a revised proposal for new sanctions against Iran, United Nations diplomats said.
The sanctions would target the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard and toughen existing measures against its shipping, banking and insurance sectors.
Russia has expressed a willingness to negotiate on the elements for a new UN sanctions resolution but China, which relies on Iran for much of its energy, had not responded, the diplomats said. They spoke anonymously because discussions are taking place among capitals.
The US circulated elements for a possible new UN sanctions resolution to other veto-wielding UN Security Council members – Russia, China, Britain and France - and Germany in January. The six countries have been trying, to no avail, to get Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment programme and return to negotiations on its nuclear programme.
The revised proposal, sent by the Western nations in the past few days, builds on the three previous sanctions resolutions against Iran, aimed at pressuring the government, which has stepped up its enrichment programme while insisting its goal is the peaceful production of nuclear energy.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused the US and its allies on Sunday of being behind the UN nuclear watchdog agency’s claim that Iran may be making nuclear bombs, despite its repeated denials.
His comments on state television came 10 days after the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was concerned Iran may be working on nuclear weapons, echoing conclusions reached by the US and several of its allies.
The initial UN sanctions resolutions focused on Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes and the people and financing behind them.
Diplomats said the new proposal would target the Revolutionary Guard and companies and organisations controlled by the elite corps that have links to weapons proliferation.
The last sanctions resolution adopted in March 2008 authorised inspection of cargo shipments by two Iranian companies that are suspected of containing banned items.
It also introduced financial monitoring of two banks with suspected links to proliferation activities and called on all countries “to exercise vigilance” in entering into new trade commitments with Iran, including granting export credits, guarantees or insurance.
UN diplomats said the new proposal would toughen the shipping, banking and insurance measures.
The list of individuals and companies with links to weapons programmes is also likely to be expanded in a new resolution. All countries are required to freeze the assets of those on the list and ban travel for the individuals.
While the four Western powers have been pushing for a fourth round of UN sanctions, China has been sceptical, saying repeatedly that it believes there is more room for diplomacy.
The Western powers want a new sanctions resolution approved before the five-year review of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty starts at UN headquarters in May. The 1968 accord is considered the cornerstone of global efforts to prevent the spread of atomic arms.
The six countries have backed the three previous sanctions resolutions, and Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that unity should be maintained.
“The value of the ’six’ is obvious, and we have been working as the ’six’ on this matter since May of 2006 and we have every intention to continue doing so as the ’six’,” Mr Churkin said on Tuesday.
“There are variables sometimes in interpretation on what would be the proper thing to do but I see no reason why the six could not continue working effectively and hammering out joint positions on the issues of our dealings with Iran.”
He stressed that the goal remained negotiations with Iran.
“Another resolution may happen ... but the key thing is not to have sanctions, the key thing is to have this matter resolved peacefully,” he said.
“And that is why it is more complicated than just what element or elements one is going to have in a hypothetical security council resolution. This is where most of our concerns, our efforts, our work lie.”