Major powers offer minor amendments
UNITED NATIONS – Six major powers agreed on minor amendments Thursday to a new resolution to step up pressure on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment but rejected a proposed 90-day “time out” on all sanctions sought by South Africa.Acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the United States also rejected amendments by Indonesia and Qatar calling for the Middle East to be free of weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them because the resolution deals only with Iran’s nuclear program.Wolff and French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said they hoped the U.N. Security Council would vote on the resolution this week. It’s “getting a little bit harder, but it’s still possible,” Wolff said.The council’s five veto-holding permanent members – the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France – and Germany are hoping for a vote Saturday, said one council diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.De La Sabliere said that “almost all members of the council” accepted the approach of incrementally stepping up sanctions against Iran and the supporters were “close to the moment” when the wording of the resolution would be ready for a vote.The six powers agreed on a new sanctions package last week aimed at persuading Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment, which can both produce fuel for electricity-generating nuclear reactors but also atomic bombs.The council’s 10 non-permanent members, which are elected for two-year terms, got to see the text a week ago and this week South Africa, Qatar and Indonesia proposed amendments. They were discussed for the first time Wednesday by the 15-nation council, which was expected to hear the six powers’ response to the proposed changes later Thursday.In December, the Security Council voted unanimously to impose limited sanctions on Iran for its refusal to freeze enrichment. It ordered all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs and to freeze assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to those programs.Iran responded by announcing an expansion of its enrichment program, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remains defiant, insisting the program is peaceful and aimed solely at producing electricity.In an interview with France-2 TV, Ahmadinejad said Thursday he would make new proposals to resolve the dispute, although he again rejected demands to suspend uranium enrichment.”Our proposals will be based on rights and laws and on the inalienable rights of all nations. Not only on what the United States or Great Britain wants,” he said, without offering specifics.Ahmadinejad has asked to speak to the Security Council just before it votes on the new draft resolution.The new sanctions proposed by the six powers would ban Iranian arms exports and freeze the assets of 28 additional individuals and organizations involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. About a third of those are linked to the Revolutionary Guard, an elite military corps.The package also calls for voluntary restrictions on travel by the individuals subject to sanctions, on arms sales to Iran, and on new financial assistance or loans to the Iranian government.South Africa proposed extensive amendments including a 90-day “time out” on all sanctions against Iran and elimination of an embargo on arms exports and financial sanctions targeting the Revolutionary Guards and an Iranian bank.South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, the current council president, said his government believed the measures proposed by the six powers went beyond Iran’s nuclear program. He said the amendments were made “in the spirit of adding value to the draft.”But Wolff and de La Sabliere said the sponsors could not accept amendments that didn’t follow their approach of gradually stepping up sanctions.Wolff said a revised text would make clearer the package of economic incentives and political rewards the six powers offered Iran last June if it agreed to consider a long-term moratorium on enrichment and committed itself to freeze enrichment before talks on its nuclear program.He said it would also clarify the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The draft calls for the U.N. watchdog agency’s chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, to report in 60 days on whether Iran has suspended enrichment, and Wolff said there may be “some consideration about the reporting requirement.”The weapons-free zone in the Mideast was the main proposal of both Indonesia and Qatar. Such a zone would have implications for Israel, a close U.S. ally that is widely believed to have nuclear weapons though the Israeli government has never officially acknowledged that.—Associated Press Writer Paul Burkhardt contributed to this report.