The UN Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions in as many years on a defiant Iran over a nuclear program the West suspects is aimed at developing atomic weapons.
Iran insisted it would go ahead with the uranium enrichment at the centre of the dispute. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the UN resolution was “valueless” and should be thrown “in the waste bin like a used handkerchief.”
But Russia and China, which have strong economic ties with Tehran and have at times resisted sanctions, fully backed the new UN move to blacklist dozens of Iranian military, industrial and shipping firms.
US President Barack Obama said the sanctions, which also provide for inspections of suspect cargoes to and from Iran and tighten an arms embargo, would be vigorously enforced.
The resolution followed five months of arduous negotiations between the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia. With 12 votes in favour, it received the least support in the 15-nation council of the four Iran sanctions resolutions adopted since 2006.
Brazil and Turkey, angry at the West’s dismissal of an atomic fuel deal with Iran that they said made new sanctions unnecessary, voted against. Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah is in the government, abstained.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called the resolution a mistake and his foreign minister said he doubted the sanctions would have any impact. But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Colombia they would “slow down and certainly interfere with” Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The four Western powers had wanted tougher measures — some targeting Iran’s energy sector — but Beijing and Moscow succeeded in diluting the steps outlined in the resolution.
“This council has risen to its responsibilities. Now Iran should choose a wiser course,” US Ambassador Susan Rice told the council after the vote.
Iran denies Western allegations that it is seeking atomic weapons, insisting that it only wants peaceful nuclear energy.
Tehran’s envoy to the UN 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.
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.
Iran remains defiant
In Washington, Obama said the new sanctions were the most comprehensive that Iran had faced and sent 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,” he said.
Israel, which has hinted it could bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities the way it did Iraq’s in 1981, said the new sanctions were an important step, but called for even broader economic and diplomatic measures.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry may have had Israel in mind when it announced that the measures in the resolution “exclude the possibility of employing force.
The resolution calls for measures against new Iranian banks abroad if a connection to the nuclear or missile programs is suspected, as well as vigilance over transactions with any Iranian bank, including the central bank.
It also blacklists three firms controlled by Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and 15 belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as calling for setting up a cargo inspection regime like one in place for North Korea.
The resolution lists 40 companies in all to be added to a UN blacklist of firms whose assets worldwide are to be frozen for aiding Iran’s nuclear or missile programs.
The only new blacklisted individual is Javad Rahiqi, head of an Iranian nuclear centre where uranium is processed. His assets will be blocked and he will face a foreign travel ban.
EU diplomats said major European states plan to use the UN move to impose their own unilateral sanctions on Iran and could agree on them very soon.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates hinted that unilateral measures that the United States and its EU allies might approve could target Iran’s oil and gas exports.
Turkey and Brazil last month revived parts of a plan brokered by UN nuclear inspectors in October for Tehran to part with 1200 kg (2600 pounds) of low enriched uranium, or LEU, in return for fuel rods for a medical research reactor.
Iran’s LEU proposal raised concerns, Russia, France and the United States said in a note to the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency, according to diplomats in Vienna.
Iran had proposed to part with no more LEU — potential atomic bomb material if enriched to a very high purity level — than it did under the original October deal, even though its LEU stockpile had almost doubled since then, they said. Iran had also begun refining uranium to a higher level in February.
The first two UN Iran sanctions resolutions, adopted in 2006 and 2007, passed unanimously. The council approved a third set in 2008 with 14 “Yes” votes and one abstention.
The three rounds of punitive measures aimed at Iran’s nuclear and missile industries have hurt its economy but failed to persuade its leadership to halt its nuclear program or come to the negotiating table.