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Iran rejects U.N. nuke sanctions

The U.N. Security Council's fourth and toughest round of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program meets rejection in Iran, praise in Israel and caution elsewhere.
Image: U.N. Security Council votes on new sanctions against Iran
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice and British Ambassador to the U.N. Mark Lyall Grant vote to affirm a U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran on Wednesday.Mario Tama / Getty Images
/ Source: staff and news service reports

The fourth and toughest round of U.N. sanctions against Iran over what the West suspects is an atomic weapons program brought sneers in Iran, cheers in Israel and fears of animosity elsewhere in the world.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the U.N. resolution passed Wednesday was "valueless" and should be thrown "in the waste bin like a used handkerchief."

Russia and China, which have strong economic ties with Tehran and have at times resisted sanctions, fully backed the new U.N. move to blacklist dozens of Iranian military, industrial and shipping firms. However, Russia issued a warning about further actions by the U.S. and its allies and also said Thursday the sanctions won't stop a missile deal it has with Iran.

Turkey on Thursday called the vote a mistake, a day after President Barack Obama said the sanctions send Iran an unmistakable message.

"We will ensure that these sanctions are vigorously enforced, just as we continue to refine and enforce our own sanctions on Iran," Obama said.

The resolution followed five months of arduous negotiations between the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia. With 12 votes in favor, it received the least support in the 15-nation council of the four Iran sanctions resolutions adopted since 2006. Lebanon abstained while Brazil and Turkey voted "no."

Tehran's envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog in Vienna said the sanctions would not alter Iran's nuclear program.

"Nothing will change. The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue uranium enrichment activities," Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said.

Netanyahu offers praise
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the sanctions.

"We hope that this positive step will be followed by decisive actions by other countries, including sanctions targeting Iran's energy sector," Netanyahu said in a statement late on Wednesday.

"This resolution warns Iran that the world's leading countries are opposed to its nuclear program," he said. "The biggest threat to peace is that the world's most dangerous regimes arm themselves with the most dangerous weapon."

Western powers and Israel suspect Iran is developing a nuclear weapons capability, because of its concealment of nuclear activity from the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency and restrictions on IAEA access.

Israel, whose jets bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and what it said was a nuclear facility in Syria in 2007, has hinted it could use force to deny Iran the means to build an atomic bomb.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said new sanctions will pave the way for tougher additional measures by the U.S. and its allies. France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said European Union foreign ministers will be meeting on Monday and while France would like tougher EU measures, all 27 countries to must decide on additional sanctions.

Russia warns of retaliation
While Russia backed the U.N. resolution, its Foreign Ministry warned of retaliatory measures if further sanctions affect Russian companies or individuals.

"We cannot possibly ignore signals reaching us about the intention of some of our partners ... to start considering additional, tougher restrictive measures against Iran than those provided for under the UN Security Council resolution," the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said it was especially concerned by the prospect of "extraterritorial sanctions" - sanctions imposed on companies and individuals from third countries.

"Such decisions, if they affect Russian legal entities or individuals, are fraught with retaliatory measures," it said.

Russia says missiles are a go
Russia said Thursday that the new U.N. sanctions do not forbid the delivery of its S-300s surface-to-air missile systems to the Islamic Republic. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko told journalists that the U.N. resolution does not apply to air-defense systems, with the exception of shoulder-fired missiles.

Israel and the U.S. have urged Russia not to supply the missile systems, which would substantially increase Iran's defense capability. Russia agreed to sell the missiles in 2007, but has not yet delivered them.

"Russia is in no way bound by the U.N. Security Council resolution in relation to supplies of the S-300 air-defense systems to Iran, and work on that contract is under way," Dmitriyev said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

He added that the U.N. resolution has "left a broad field" for other Russian cooperation with Iran in the military sphere.

Russia is also building Iran's first nuclear power plant in the southern port of Bushehr, which is expected to come on line in August. Nesterenko said the U.N. resolution wouldn't affect the Bushehr project.

China, which had hesitated for months before joining talks on new sanctions in January, called for full implementation of the new measures and urged Tehran to comply with international demands about its enrichment program.

The adoption followed several months of difficult negotiations by the five veto-wielding permanent U.N. Security Council members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — and non-member Germany. Iran launched a diplomatic offensive in April to try to block it.

Obama calls message 'unmistakable'
Obama said Wednesday that the new resolution imposes "the toughest sanctions ever faced by the Iranian government, and it sends an unmistakable message about the international community's commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons."

The president said he had offered to pursue diplomatic solutions, but the six powers seeking negotiations had been rebuffed by Tehran "time and again."

"Actions do have consequences, and today the Iranian government will face some of those consequences," Obama said.

Iran resists pressure
Iran's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee warned, however, that "no amount of pressure and mischief will be able to break our nation's determination to pursue and defend its legal and inalienable rights" to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

"These sanctions are as tough as they are smart and precise," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said after the vote, dismissing Khazaee's statement as "ridiculous" and "reprehensible."

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, also warned that "choosing the option of confrontation will bring Iran's resolute response," which he did not disclose, according to Iran's official news agency.

The new sanctions freeze the assets of 40 additional companies and organizations — 15 linked to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, 22 involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities, and three linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. They also add the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran's Esfahan Nuclear Technology Center to a list of 40 people now subject to both an asset freeze and travel ban.

Under the resolution, Iran is now banned from pursuing "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons," investing in nuclear-related activities such as uranium mining, and buying eight categories of heavy weapons including attack helicopters and missiles.

Iran, however, already has most of what it would need to make a nuclear weapon.

Oil unaffected
Crucially, the new sanctions do not affect oil exports, the lifeblood of Iran's economy, because targeting them would have cost the U.S. essential support from Russia and China which have strong economic ties with Tehran. The Russians and Chinese also nixed any ban on gasoline imports because it would hurt the Iranian people and watered down tough financial and shipping sanctions proposed by the U.S. and its allies.

The resolution calls on, but doesn't require, all countries to cooperate in cargo inspections if there are "reasonable grounds" to believe the items could contribute to the Iranian nuclear program, and any inspection must receive the consent of the ship's flag state.

On the financial side, it similarly calls on — but doesn't require — countries to block financial transactions, including insurance and reinsurance, and to ban the licensing of Iranian banks if they have information that provides "reasonable grounds" to believe these activities could contribute to Iranian nuclear activities.

Turkey, Brazil offered deal
Turkey and Brazil brokered a fuel-swap agreement with Iran that they offered as an alternative solution to concerns that Tehran may be enriching uranium for nuclear weapons — and the two non-permanent council members expressed frustration at the rush to adopt sanctions while their effort is under way.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the resolution's supporters "threw out an historic opportunity to peacefully negotiate the Iranian nuclear program," and he called the new sanctions "a mistake" implemented "just for spite," according to the state-run Agencia Brasil news agency.

Under the proposal, Iran would swap some of its enriched uranium for fuel for a research reactor in Tehran. The U.S., Russia and France have said that — unlike the original plan drawn up eight months ago — the proposal would leave Iran with enough material to make a nuclear weapon because of the country's continuing uranium enrichment.

The three countries sent a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency seeking clarifications from Tehran, and several council ambassadors said they would still like to see the swap go ahead to start engaging with Iran.

Lebanon calls sanctions 'failure'
Lebanon's U.N. Ambassador Nawaf Salam said a fuel-swap deal would be "a gateway for confidence building measures."

"We believe that the sanctions resolution is a painful failure of diplomatic efforts," Salam said. "We refuse to give up. We call on all states ... to reinitiate and intensify diplomatic efforts."

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that together with Brazil it would continue to seek a diplomatic solution to remove concerns over Iran's nuclear program.

Erdogan told an Arab and Turkish ministerial forum attended by ministers from 22 members of the Arab League why Turkey voted against sanctions.

"We would not want to participate in such a mistake because history will not forgive us," Erdogan said.

The six major powers, in a statement after the vote, also reiterated their "commitment to seek an early negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue ... which would restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program."

They welcomed and commended "all diplomatic efforts in this regard, especially those recently made by Brazil and Turkey."

The six countries also announced that they have asked EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton to pursue a dialogue with Iran's Jalili.

"We expect Iran to demonstrate a pragmatic attitude and to respond positively," they said.