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The US administration is expecting a UN Security Council resolution concerning Iran by the end of next month and is pushing for a decision that would mention the possibility for future sanctions against Iran if it does not obey the demands of the international community regarding its nuclear program.
Diplomatic sources in Washington said that, at present, the possibility of moving forward on imposing sanctions against Iran depended on the stand China would take, and more importantly on the one Russia would take, since it was presumed that China alone would not take action to stop the sanctions process.
The US sees the following timetable as possible for dealing with Iran in the international arena: The first step - referring Iran to the Security Council by the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency - should take place within two weeks, following the decision of the EU countries and Russia to support this step.
The Security Council is expected to take up the issue in early to mid-February, and the first step it is expected to be an informal closed-door discussion between the members.
This discussion would be followed by a statement issued by the Security Council's president that would reflect the consensus view of all members.
The US sees this timing as favorable, since during February the US will serve as the president of the Security Council, a post that rotates among the members.
The person representing the US at the head of the table will be none other than Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who is known for his tough views concerning Iran's nuclear project. In his former post as undersecretary of state for arms control, he led a hard-line approach to Iran and identified its nuclear project as a threat to regional stability. It is expected that during his month as president of the Security Council, Bolton will pursue an expedited track for dealing with Iran.
After the Security Council president's statement, which might be derailed if a consensus is not reached, the council will go into deliberations to determine the way forward. These deliberations are expected to yield a resolution that will reflect the demands presented by the international community to Iran.
The US is working now to ensure that this decision will mention Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which enables the use of non-military measures against a state that does not obey Security Council resolutions. Diplomatic sources in Washington acknowledged the fact that it would be difficult to reach an agreement on the use of Chapter VII sanctions, due to the significance of Iran as the world's fourth largest exporter of crude oil.
The most likely scenario at present is the incremental approach, in which the first resolution will not include a mention of Chapter VII and will only express concern of the Iranian actions. This kind of resolution can be followed by a second one, if Iran does not comply with the demands, in which sanctions are clearly mentioned. Such a process might take several months.
Until now, the Security Council has invoked Chapter VII sanction in just 16 cases, and most of them have already been lifted.
Though sanctions against Iran do not have to include a complete ban on trade with the country, it is feared in the West that any action would lead Iran to stop its oil exports, thus causing a global rise in oil prices.
Former foreign minister Silvan Shalom said at a press conference Sunday that he believed there would be widespread support on the Security Council for imposing sanctions on Iran.
Shalom also said that after talking with China's foreign minister recently, he got the impression that China would not use its veto to block the sanctions, despite a massive $75 billion long-term oil and gas development package the two countries have signed.
China has only used its veto five times since becoming a Security Council member in 1971, and has only vetoed two resolutions since 1984.
Meanwhile, Iran had allocated some $215 million for the construction of what would be its second and third nuclear power plants, state radio reported Monday.
The report did not give the location of the new reactors, but last month Iran said it planned to build new plants in the southern provinces of Khuzestan and Bushehr.
Iran's first reactor has been built at Bushehr with Russian assistance and is due to come on stream this year.
"Some 1,940 billion rials have been allocated for the building of two nuclear power plants in the draft budget bill for the next Iranian year," Farhad Rahbar, the head of Iran's Management and Planning Organization, told Teheran radio. The Iranian new year begins March 21.
Iran plans to build 20 more nuclear plants, and Russia has offered to build some of them.
Diplomatic sources said in the past days that the latest actions by President Mahmoud Ahmadinajad, including breaking the seals off the uranium enrichment facilities and convening a conference for Holocaust deniers in Teheran, have managed to push the international community closer to the American view against Iran.
Herb Keinon and AP contributed to this report.
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