Britain, France, US won't agree to 90-day 'time out' on sanctions

British ambassador said suggestion that was proposed by South Africa is "totally perverse."

UN security council 298 (photo credit: Channel 1)
UN security council 298
(photo credit: Channel 1)
Britain, France and the United States made clear they would not agree to a 90-day "time out" on all sanctions against Iran that was proposed by South Africa, a suggestion the British ambassador called "totally perverse." Acting US Ambassador Alejandro Wolff indicated Washington would also reject amendments by Indonesia and Qatar for the Middle East to be free of weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them - because of their implications for Israel. It is widely believed to have developed nuclear weapons though the Israeli government has never officially acknowledged them. The 15 members of the UN Security Council held their first negotiations late Wednesday on the resolution drafted by six world powers to increase pressure on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and amendments proposed by the non-permanent council members. France's UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said "a large majority" of council members support the draft. The six countries who back it - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - will send common ideas for amendments to their capitals Wednesday night, he said. On Thursday morning "I think we will be in a position to make some concrete proposals and changes in order to reach a unanimous Security Council," de La Sabliere said. The full council was scheduled to meet again late Thursday to discuss the proposed changes. In December, the Security Council voted unanimously to impose limited sanctions against Iran for its refusal to freeze uranium 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 expanding its enrichment program - and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remains defiant, insisting the program is peaceful and aimed solely at producing nuclear energy, not nuclear weapons. The six powers reacted by proposing new sanctions in the draft resolution which 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 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 has 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 Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards and an Iranian bank. "I told them we are making the amendments in the spirit of adding value to the draft," South Africa's UN Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said after the meeting, reiterating that his government believes the measures proposed by the six go beyond Iran's nuclear program. Kumalo said the resolution's sponsors said they thought they could accommodate some amendments, "some of them are difficult because they change the aim of what they're trying to achieve, and others they will see." In an obvious reference to the proposed 90-day "time out" on sanctions, Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said all council members accept that Iran has failed to comply with Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment. "And we think it would be perverse in response to that situation to say, `oh, by the way, we now lift the obligations which are currently applied to Iran.' It would be totally perverse," Jones Parry said. America's Wolff said any amendments have to be "consistent with the approach that we've laid out ... and deliver a clear message of what's required and what the consequences are of non-compliance." "In order to have Iran responding," said France's de La Sabliere, "you have to increase pressure. Decreasing pressure won't do the job. We think that increasing the pressure is the right thing to do." Virtually all ambassadors stressed the importance of trying to get all 15 council members to support the resolution to send a united message to Iran to rein in its nuclear program. Referring to South Africa, Wolff said, "If I didn't think we could still bring them on board, I wouldn't be looking at this seriously." Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow regarded the Indonesian and Qatar proposals for a weapons-free Middle East "positively." He said some suggestions from the non-permanent members enhance "the logic of some of the provisions of the resolution." What's needed, he said, is compromise. "I think there is general understanding in the Security Council that unanimity is going to be very important," Churkin said. Ahmadinejad has asked to speak to the Security Council just before it votes on the resolution, so the timing of a vote has become a key question. The United States, Britain and France are still hoping the resolution will be adopted by the end of the week, but China and others believe a vote won't take place until next week. Kumalo, the current Security Council president, said he will have to send the response of the resolution's supporters to South Africa's amendments to his government Thursday night in hopes of getting instructions on the next steps on Friday. Until then, he said, he won't know when a vote might be held.