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U.S. Spearheads New Sanctions to Stifle Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions

May 18, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Russian and China have reached a deal with the U.S. and other world powers to impose new sanctions on Iran, a day after the country signed a deal with Turkey and Brazil to swap its nuclear fuel. Jeffrey Brown talks to a reporter for more on the draft agreement and the upcoming vote in the United Nations.
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JEFFREY BROWN: The long-running confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program took a new turn today. The Obama administration reported an agreement to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on the Tehran regime.

Word of the new development on U.N. sanctions came this morning from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a Senate hearing.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. secretary of state: I am pleased to announce to this committee we have reached agreement on a strong draft with the cooperation of both Russia and China. We plan to circulate that draft resolution to the entire Security Council today.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Russian and Chinese support increased chances of approval in the Security Council. Both nations have veto power there, and, until now, both have been reluctant to impose new sanctions. Clinton said Iran knew what was coming yesterday, when it announced a deal with Turkey and Brazil to ship some of its nuclear fuel out of the country.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: We don’t believe it was any accident that Iran agreed to this declaration as we were preparing to move forward in New York.

With all due respect to my Turkish and Brazilian friends, the fact that we had Russia on board, we had China on board, and that we were moving early this week, namely today, to share the text of that resolution put pressure on Iran, which they were trying to somehow dissipate.

JEFFREY BROWN: The U.N. has already imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran since 2006 for failing to comply with international nuclear safeguards and inspections.

The Iranians continue to insist their program is for peaceful purposes, but the pressure for new sanctions increased this year when Iran began enriching uranium at higher levels.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, Iranian president (through translator): We are producing and stockpiling several kilos of this every day, and, God willing, in the near future, daily production will be tripled.

JEFFREY BROWN: U.S. lobbying of Russia and China intensified after that. In April, after signing a nuclear arms deal with President Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Iran must halt its nuclear program.

And later that month in Washington, the president met with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the world nuclear summit. They, too, discussed ramping up pressure against the Islamic republic. Late today, the product of that diplomacy began circulating among the 15 members of the Security Council, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice gave an outline of the proposal.

SUSAN RICE, United States Ambassador to the United Nations: The goal of this resolution is twofold, first to increase the cost to Iran’s leadership for their continued defiance of the international community, and, second, to persuade Iran that it is in its interest to peacefully resolve concerns about its nuclear program.

The draft seeks to support, and not replace, our efforts to engage Iran diplomatically. We have said throughout this process that the door remains open to Iran to live up to its obligations and achieve a better relationship with the international community.

JEFFREY BROWN: Rice said the resolution would build on previous sanctions and add new categories of punitive measures.

And, for more, we turn to Glenn Kessler, diplomatic correspondent at The Washington Post.

Glenn, the details of this agreement are really just coming out. What do you see in terms of new sanctions? What, specifically, are they targeting?

GLENN KESSLER, The Washington Post: What you do — what see is kind of an expansion and ramping up of some of the sanctions.

But, overall, I would say it is reasonably modest. What you have, for instance, in the previous resolution, states were urged to not sell heavy weapons equipments — equipment to Iran. What you have now is, the draft actually says states cannot sell these heavy weapons to Iran.

At the same time, it doesn’t ban light weapons. It doesn’t ban energy sales or energy investment. You will see some additional entities and individuals associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps sanctioned by name, though, interestingly, that list has not been finalized. While the draft has been finalized among the major powers, you do not actually have agreement on a list.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, the key issue here was getting China and Russia on board. Do we know how tough that was or what kind of compromises that entailed?

GLENN KESSLER: Well, I mentioned some of the things that they don’t have in the agreement. And to be fair to the administration, this — this particular U.N. resolution was always the weakest leg of a three-legged stool of putting pressure on Iran.

What they needed was some sort of U.N. agreement, and they wanted desperately China and Russia’s agreement. From this U.N. agreement, assuming it passes the U.N. Security Council, it will then go to the European Union, which will impose even tougher sanctions, including some of the things they didn’t get here.

And, then, after that is done, a group of like-minded nations, such as the United Nations — the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, other countries like that, Australia, will then impose individual tougher sanctions. And those are the sanctions that would be the — quote, unquote — “crippling sanctions” that Secretary Clinton promised last year.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, we heard in our setup Secretary of State Clinton use that, “with all due respect to my Turkish and Brazilian friends.”

It seems quite clear that the U.S. wasn’t happy with that agreement yesterday, correct?

GLENN KESSLER: That’s right. And neither were the Chinese or the Russians, to be frank.

This agreement that was announced today was negotiated over the weekend and through yesterday. And they essentially regarded what the Turks and the Brazilians did as a sideshow, not something particularly serious, not something that anyone could take to the bank and feel that it was making any kind of progress.

But it does complicate matters in the Security Council, because you had the Turkish president and the Brazilian president in Tehran make an announcement that they thought it was a diplomatic achievement. And, already, you have the Brazilian U.N. ambassador emerge from this meeting with Susan Rice saying Brazil will not engage in this resolution.

And that raises the possibility that you will actually end up with some no votes when they try to press forward with this resolution. And that hasn’t happened before on a sanctions resolution regarding Iran.

And it is very important to show international unity as they try to go forward from here.

JEFFREY BROWN: And coming back to the China question for a moment, is it clear how strong their support is? Their officials were praising yesterday’s announcement as of this morning. And just late today, there is a — on the wire says that China’s U.S. envoy says that these new sanctions are not intended to harm normal trade with Iran.

So, what does that tell you about China’s stance here?

GLENN KESSLER: Look, China was always reluctant on this. And certainly they have been very careful, in this resolution, not to harm their trading relationship. I mean, there are all sorts of caveats and outs. Any kind of restrictions are really related to proliferation activities and the like.

And it does give a grounding that other countries, as I mentioned, like the United States and the Europeans, can do their own tougher sanctions. But the Chinese are not going to let up on their trade and investment in Iran. And that is a difficulty going forward.

But this is about the best they can do in terms of dealing with the Chinese.

JEFFREY BROWN: One of the tough issues was the authorization to search cargo ships going in and out of the country for suspected weapons or nuclear technology. Now, that’s something that was in the sanctions against North Korea.

My understanding was that is much harder to pull off with Iran, when you have so much cargo going in and out of the country. Where did that end up?

GLENN KESSLER: Well, its language is somewhat similar to what they did with North Korea. You are not going to have ships boarded on the high seas. It is at ports. It can be — generally would be expected it’s not going to be forcible boardings.

It is intended as a threat. And, in particular, states are going to have to be sure that they really have the goods. They wouldn’t want to be embarrassed and board something and not find anything.

But you’re entirely correct. North Korea doesn’t have a lot of trade. Iran has a lot of trade. And the United States and its allies are going to have to be very careful how they implement this.

JEFFREY BROWN: And real briefly, Glenn, what is the time frame? When does it go to a vote in the Security Council? Do we know?

GLENN KESSLER: They haven’t specified that. They have made it clear that they wouldn’t have gone forward if they didn’t think they had the requisite nine votes to bring this to the Security Council.

But, like I said, they want to be very careful that they don’t end up with any no votes. And, right now, Brazil, Turkey, and Lebanon are real problems in terms of getting to yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

GLENN KESSLER: You’re welcome.