UN readies 3rd round of Iran sanctions

Iranian FM says Iran isn't threatening Israel; Barak: Teheran has clandestine enrichment program.

mottaki 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
mottaki 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
As the UN Security Council was preparing new sanctions that would step up punitive action against Iran over its nuclear program, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Friday that the five permanent members of the council should "correct their past mistakes" and draw up a resolution ending UNSC involvement in his country's nuclear affairs. Mottaki also said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos that Iran was not threatening Israel and did not want nuclear weapons, and that it was Israel that possessed nuclear weapons and "is threatening Teheran." The Iranian foreign minister went on to say that in the past, there were two countries Iran would not recognize: South Africa and Israel. "In the case of South Africa, the problem was solved with the end of apartheid, and if the situation also changes in the other case [Israel], there is no reason why relations with that country cannot change, too," he added. Mottaki evaded a direct answer when asked whether he supported Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's call for Israel to be wiped off the map, but suggested that only those who were in "Palestine" before Israel was established 60 years ago had a right to decide on the political makeup of the region. Asked whether Fatah was empowered to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel, he said it was not up to Iran to "instruct the Palestinians," but suggested that Hamas, too, should be involved in any settlement. According to a draft of the new UN sanctions, all countries would be required to ban the entry of individuals involved in the Iranian nuclear program - a step up from a previous call for "vigilance" over their travel. The latest round of penalties would also, for the first time, ban trade in equipment and technology that could be used in both civilian and nuclear programs, and call on countries to inspect cargo heading to or from Iran "provided there are reasonable grounds to believe" that prohibited goods were being transported. The five veto-wielding members of the council - the US, Britain, France, China and Russia - along with Germany, agreed this week on the basic terms of the resolution. The full 15-nation Security Council is expected to approve it next month. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman denied comment Saturday night on the draft resolution, saying that Israel had not yet sufficiently studied what it entailed. Israel has been lobbying intensively both for much tougher UN sanctions and for economic steps that other countries and financial institutions could take outside of the UN framework. This topic was the focus of the US-Israel "strategic dialogue" in Tel Aviv on Thursday. The US team at those talks was headed by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, and included Stuart Levey, the US Treasury official spearheading efforts to hit Iran economically outside of the UN sanctions framework. Levey, the US undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, has spent the last three years trying to convince major financial institutions in the US and around the world to employ financial sanctions against Teheran. He is scheduled to leave Israel on Sunday. The new UN proposal would freeze the assets of additional individuals and entities involved in Iran's nuclear activities that were not identified. It calls on all countries "to exercise vigilance" in entering into new financial commitments with Iraq, including the granting of export credits, guarantees or insurance. It also calls for "vigilance" over financial dealings with Iran-based banks, "in particular with Bank Melli and Bank Saderat, and their branches and subsidiaries abroad." Mottaki said that at the very least, before taking action, the Security Council should wait until the International Atomic Energy Agency completes its probe of Iran's past nuclear activities, which will be in early March at the latest. If that report shows no attempt by Iran to make nuclear weapons, council members "should... pass a new resolution" formally washing their hands of Iran's nuclear activities, he said. The Iranian foreign minister said he saw no room for improved relations between Teheran and Washington, even beyond the approaching change of US administrations. Formal bilateral ties were cut in the wake of the 1979 Iranian hostage-taking of US Embassy personnel. "Usually we do not look to the individuals in the United States or even to the [political] parties - we look to policies," he said. "Being a realist... I have to say that I do not see room for the time being for the [establishment] of relations between Iran and the United States," he added, while acknowledging the sense of bilateral talks on the situation in Iraq. Meanwhile, in an interview to the Washington Post published Saturday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel believed Iran had a clandestine uranium enrichment program beyond the one in Natanz, and suspected it was already working on warheads for ground-to-ground missiles. Barak said Israel believed "the Iranians are aiming at nuclear capability," even though "they may have slowed down the weapons [development] in 2003, because it was at the height of the American military campaign [in Iraq]." "We think that they are quite advanced, much beyond the level of the Manhattan Project," Barak stated, referring to the codename of the US nuclear development project during World War II. "It's clear that the real risk with Iran turning nuclear is that it will be the end of the non-proliferation regime because it will open the door on active proliferation," he said. "It's very dangerous that we will end up in 10 to 15 years with a nuclear device in the hands of terrorists." He added that "the leading intelligence communities should concentrate on finding whether there is... a clandestine enrichment operation and a weapons group working on the weapons technology." But he acknowledged that because of the US National Intelligence Estimate that said the Iranians stopped their nuclear program in 2003, the international community was not as certain of Iran's nuclear aspirations. "Clearly the NIE reduced the enthusiasm even for tougher sanctions," he said. "We need a much deeper and more intimate cooperation between the United States, the EU, Russia and China. And this needs a paradigm shift in the way we approach China and Russia."