UK minister: Iran sanctions 'pretty weak'

Kim Howells tells lawmakers Britain hopes for tighter international measures against Teheran's nuke program.

iran nuclear, satellite  (photo credit: Isis)
iran nuclear, satellite
(photo credit: Isis)
Sanctions aimed at halting Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon are too weak, but major world powers - including the United States - have no plans for military intervention to curb Teheran's activities, a British minister said Friday. Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, told lawmakers that Britain hopes to win tighter UN and European Union action against Teheran over its disputed nuclear program. Political directors from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany will meet on the issue in Paris on Saturday, he said. Discussions will follow talks on Friday between Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who Howells said would meet in London. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has urged tighter UN sanctions, proposing a specific targeting of Iran's oil and gas industry. But US officials have complained that Russia and China remain skeptical about the need for a third round of sanctions. The US and its allies contend Iran's nuclear program is a front for the covert development of atomic weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for civilian power needs. Current UN measures are "pretty weak in reality, I don't think the UN is going out of its way to cripple Iran in any way," Howells told committee. Even with tighter sanctions, Iran's energy industry would not be decimated, Britain's Iran co-ordinator Anthony Phillipson told the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee. "But it will be an escalation of the sanctions and a turning of the screw," he said. Howells told the committee that Britain believes Iran has not produced "a large amount of highly enriched uranium" - the material necessary for a nuclear weapon. "We think they have a long way to go before they get the enrichment process right," he said. Howells defended Britain's refusal to explicitly rule out military action against Iran, saying Iranian-backed attacks on British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan meant London must retain its options. But he said during recent meetings at the Pentagon and elsewhere he had detected no international appetite for military strikes over the nuclear issue. "It may be unfashionable to say it, but I haven't met anyone in the United States who wants to invade Iran," Howells told the committee. "No one has said to me they think it would be a good idea to take military action in Iran," he said.