The UN Security Council's decision Saturday to impose sanctions on Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment marks the first significant international step toward stopping Iran from becoming a nuclear power, diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said.
The Security Council unanimously approved a resolution ordering all countries to ban the supply of specific materials and technology that could contribute to Iran's nuclear and missile programs. The sanctions also impose an asset freeze on key companies and individuals in the programs named on a UN list.
If Teheran refuses to comply, the resolution warns that the council will adopt further nonmilitary sanctions.
"This is a significant step because it is the first time, 17 months after the Iranians began their overt enrichment program, that the international community has taken concrete steps against it," diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said.
The officials said the consensus in the Security Council for the sanctions was also highly significant, because it provided a "legal and moral groundwork" for countries to take sanctions on their own, outside the UN framework. The official said this would provide momentum for a US campaign to take financial steps against the Iranian regime.
The officials said the ban on nuclear technology and material would have a significant impact on Teheran's nuclear program. "Despite the Iranian rhetoric, they are not where they claim to be, and a lot of what they need for further progress is not indigenous," the officials said.
Furthermore, according to the officials, the decision "forces Iran to decide whether or not it is still interested in remaining inside the family of nations, or whether it wants to go the way of North Korea - completely isolated in the world."
"The measures that the Security Council decided on will affect the progress on the ground and will send a strong message to the elite in Iran that they can either go full steam ahead at risk of international isolation, or fulfill international demands and suspend the enrichment," the officials added.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni issued a statement saying the imposition of sanctions was "an important decision in the struggle to prevent a nuclear Iran," but that the international community would have to continue to "show determination in managing this joint struggle" and stopping the nuclear program.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres characterized the sanctions "as a small first step, but in the right direction." He called for additional coordinated steps by the international community.
Peres said that if the world "takes the right steps" now it would be possible to prevent a future war with Iran. A spokesman for Peres said he was not talking about a war between Israel and Iran, but rather between the international community and Iran.
Officials in Jerusalem said the decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) late last month to deny technological aid to Teheran for its heavy water reactor at Arak in western Iran, a reactor that could make fuel for nuclear weapons, was an indication that the world was changing its modus operandi and beginning to take practical steps to stop the Islamic republic's nuclear program.
Iran's Foreign Ministry on Saturday rejected the decision as "invalid" and "illegal," and vowed to continue its nuclear program.
Teheran announced its defiant stance just over an hour after the United Nations' move. "Iran considers the new UN Security Council resolution... an extralegal act outside the frame of its responsibilities and against the UN charter," its Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The document, read on state-run television, said Iran would ignore the decision and continue to pursue its enrichment activities. "The Iranian nation has not delegated its destiny to the invalid decisions of the UN Security Council and won't do so [in the future]," it said.
Former Israeli ambassador to the UN Dore Gold applauded the move as an important first step but said these sanctions alone would not do the job. He pointed out that sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1990 were unable to bring about a change in Saddam's regime despite being in force for a decade.
Until just before Saturday's vote, it was not clear whether all 15 Security Council members would support the resolution.
Russia and China, which both have strong commercial ties to Teheran, have pressed for a step-by-step approach to sanctions, and Qatar has supported Iran's peaceful use of nuclear energy. In contrast, the United States has pushed for very tough sanctions, with Britain and France taking a slightly softer view.
In a final bid to win Russian support, key European nations circulated a new text late on Friday - and that brought Moscow and Beijing on board.
Qatar's UN Ambassador Nassir Al-Nassir, the only Arab member of the council and its current president, was the last to make his country's intentions known, telling members just before the vote that Qatar would vote yes "because we are concerned about the safety of Iranian nuclear facilities."
On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called US President George W. Bush to discuss the vote, agreeing on the need to move forward with a resolution, said Blain Rethmeier, a spokesman for Bush. The two leaders "stressed the importance of maintaining a unified position on Iran's nuclear program," Rethmeier said.
Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow voted "yes" because it wanted to send "a serious message" to Iran "to lift remaining concerns over its nuclear program." He stressed that the goal must be to resume talks. If Iran suspends enrichment and reprocessing, the resolution calls for a suspension of sanctions "which would pave the way for a negotiated solution," Churkin said.
Acting US Ambassador Alejandro Wolff expressed regret that "Iran continues to defy the international community by its continued enrichment activities," forcing the council to impose sanctions. He expressed hope the sanctions "will convince Iran that the best way to ensure security is to abandon" nuclear enrichment.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated Tuesday that Security Council sanctions would not stop Iran from pursuing uranium enrichment, a technology that can be used to produce nuclear fuel for civilian purposes or fuel for a nuclear bomb.
The resolution authorizes action under Article 41 of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. It allows the Security Council to impose nonmilitary sanctions such as completely or partially severing diplomatic and economic relations, transportation and communications links.
If Iran fails to comply with the resolution, the draft says the council will adopt "further appropriate measures" under Article 41.
During negotiations, a mandatory travel ban was dropped at Russia's insistence.
Instead, the resolution calls on all states "to exercise vigilance" regarding the entry or transit through their territory of those on a UN list that names 12 top Iranians involved in the country's nuclear and missile programs. It asks the 191 other UN member states to notify a Security Council committee if those Iranians show up in their country.
The resolution also says the council will review Iran's actions in the light of a report from the head of the IAEA, to be submitted within 60 days, on whether Iran has suspended uranium enrichment and complied with other IAEA demands.
If the IAEA verifies that Iran has suspended enrichment and reprocessing, the resolution says the sanctions will be suspended to allow for negotiations. It says sanctions will be terminated as soon as the IAEA board confirms that Iran has complied with all its obligations.
Before the final text was circulated, Russia's Churkin pressed for amendments to ensure that Moscow can conduct legitimate nuclear activities in Iran - a point he stressed Saturday morning.
Russia is building Iran's first atomic power plant at Bushehr, which is expected to go on line in late 2007. A reference to Bushehr in the original draft was removed earlier - as Russia demanded.
Britain and France circulated a draft sanctions resolution in late October, which has been revised several times since then.
To meet concerns of Russia and China that the original resolution was too broad, it was changed to specify in greater detail exactly which materials and technology would be prohibited from being supplied to Iran and to name those individuals and companies that would be affected.
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