The International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to tell the UN Security Council Thursday that Iran failed to halt uranium enrichment or to cooperate with international inspectors. The deadline set by the council for Iran to freeze all enrichment activity expires on Thursday, and unless there is a huge surprise, the road will be open to imposing sanctions.
The US has announced its intention to draft a resolution calling for sanctions immediately after the deadline expires, and at the same time, it is busy composing a response to the response by Iran on August 22 to the incentive package offered by the US and Europe in exchange for stopping nuclear enrichment activity. The response to Iran's lengthy letter is expected to reiterate that since Teheran did not accept the basic condition of halting nuclear enrichment, there is no room to discuss other elements of the incentive package.
US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said Wednesday that the US expected all Security Council members to act against Iran if it did not meet the deadline. "If they [the Iranians] haven't done that by August the 31st, we also said repeatedly and the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany have agreed that we would come to the Security Council to seek sanctions," he said.
The main obstacle facing the US is the reluctance of Russia and China to approve strict measures. The prevailing notion in Washington, according to sources close to the administration, is that China will only oppose a sanctions resolution if Russia does so as well. China relies on Iranian oil, but does not usually pursue an independent policy in the UN.
Russia has yet to give its blessing for sanctions and diplomats in Washington believe its response will depend on the language of the sanctions resolution the US and its European allies submit to the Security Council.
Bolton stressed on Wednesday that all permanent members of the Security Council had already agreed that Iran should face sanctions if it did not comply with the council's demands. "The steps that the foreign ministers agreed upon previously, including the foreign ministers of Russia and China... We should begin to talk about how to implement those steps," Bolton told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.
The US coordinator for the Iranian issue, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, will meet with representatives of Russia and China in Berlin next week in effort to get sanctions approved by the end of September.
In case there is a deadlock in the council, the US is working with European allies and Japan on ways to impose sanctions directly. These sanctions would focus on trade and finance, by blocking Iranian bank accounts in international banks and restricting trade. The US has already imposed strict sanctions on Teheran and does not have many options for further punishing Iran on its own.
Reports from diplomats updated on the inspection process indicate that the IAEA has concluded that Iran has not complied with the demand to stop uranium enrichment. The report to be presented to the Security Council Thursday will also express the dismay of the IAEA at Teheran's decision to deny its inspectors access to known nuclear sites. For the last few months, Iran has make things difficult for the inspectors and has refused to allow them to enter sites that had previously been inspected regularly.