UK, France hope for vote Friday on Iran sanctions

Russia says it wants a postponement at least until Saturday because of several unresolved technical issues.

Britain and France said they still hoped for a vote Friday on a resolution that would impose sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, but Russia said it wanted a postponement at least until Saturday because of several unresolved technical issues. The six key parties trying to curb Iran's nuclear program - Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the United Nations - met Thursday afternoon to discuss a revised text that dropped a mandatory travel ban against a dozen top Iranians involved in the country's nuclear and missile programs which Russia opposed. Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said after Thursday's meeting that the travel ban issue "has essentially been resolved," but he said two or three difficult but important issues still remain related to implementation of the resolution. China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya left early, saying "there are two or three areas" that still need to be checked with their respective governments. The resolution would order all countries to ban the supply of specified materials and technology that could contribute to Iran's nuclear and missile programs. It would also impose an asset freeze on key companies and individuals in the country's nuclear and missile programs named on a UN list. Acting US ambassador Alejandro Wolff said Thursday's meeting took place in "a good mood" and "narrowed some more issues, clarified some others" which he refused to specify. Britain and France, who co-sponsored the resolution and can decide when to call for a vote, said after the meeting they still wanted a vote on Friday. "We're hoping for a vote as soon as possible," Wolff said. "We'll see if we can do it tomorrow. That's our hope." But Russia's Churkin said "we believe there should be a postponement until Saturday." "Clearly we will need tomorrow for further thinking and maybe further discussions of the draft resolution," he said. Aside from the travel ban, he said, "there are ... other quite complicated issues, technical issues, which need to be worked out." Churkin refused to go into the specifics, but he reiterated that Russia wanted the resolution focused on prohibiting or restricting Iranian activities associated with uranium enrichment, with reprocessing nuclear fuel, with heavy water projects, and with delivery systems for nuclear weapons. "Other activities should not in any way be prohibited or restricted by this draft resolution," he said. "So the effort now is to make sure this is clear in the resolution and that the things which have nothing to do with those areas of activities" are eliminated. Wolff was asked whether the United States would accept a Russian abstention on the resolution. "We're hoping to get a consensus resolution," he said, "but we want a tough resolution that actually will demonstrate to Iran that the international community is not going to accept the continued violation of their obligations." Iran insists its nuclear program is aimed solely at the peaceful production of nuclear energy, but the Americans and Europeans suspect Teheran's ultimate goal is the production of nuclear weapons. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated Tuesday that possible 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 six countries that have been leading negotiations with Iran offered Teheran a package of economic incentives and political rewards in June if it agreed to consider a long-term moratorium on enrichment and committed itself to a freeze on uranium enrichment before talks on its nuclear program. With Iran refusing to comply with an Aug. 31 council deadline to stop enrichment, 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 what materials and technology would be prohibited from being supplied to Iran and to name those individuals and companies that would be affected. The first revision also removed a reference to a nuclear facility being built by the Russians at Bushehr, Iran - another demand by Russia. The facility, expected to go on line in late 2007, would be Iran's first atomic power plant.