Surprise move comes as security council was preparing for lengthy negotiations over Tehran’s uranium programme
The security council is set to impose tough sanctions on Iran next month after a surprise shift by Russia and China in favour of punitive action against Tehran’s military and financial institutions, according to a security council source.
The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, described the draft UN resolution as “strong”.
The proposed sanctions, which would be the fourth round of measures against Iran, are aimed at persuading it to abandon what the US, Britain, France and Israel claim is an attempt to secure a nuclear weapons capability.
The sanctions will target the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which control a business empire including hotels and other commercial projects, a huge military complex, shipping and insurance. An existing arms embargo will be expanded.
The 10-page draft resolution also calls for stopping Iranian ships suspected of containing cargo related to Iran’s nuclear or missile programmes.
Such a policy could create potentially dangerous stand-offs between US naval ships and Iranian vessels.
A draft security council resolution was agreed early today by the five permanent members of the security council – the US, Britain, China, Russia and France. The resolution was sent to the other 10 members of the council this afternoon.
The imposition of sanctions may help delay Israel’s long-threatened air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Russia and China have long held out against fresh sanctions and their turnaround appeared to catch US, British and French diplomats off guard. The White House has, for months, sought to win over Moscow and Beijing to the imposition of fresh measures.
The deal is a rare foreign policy success for Barack Obama, who faced domestic scepticism about securing the backing of China, which imports oil from Iran, and Russia, which also has extensive trade with Iran.
The security council move came less than 24 hours after Brazil and Turkey announced their own deal with Iran, under which Tehran would ship out more than a tonne of enriched uranium in return for fuel rods for a nuclear research reactor. The US and Britain were cool about this deal, saying it did not go nearly far enough.
Brazil and Turkey will be upset that their diplomatic effort has been scuppered so quickly. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had said yesterday the deal made sanctions unnecessary.
What will add to the Brazilian and Turkish anger is that their deal is similar to one that the US, France, Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, agreed with Tehran last October, from which Iran withdrew earlier this year. The White House was yesterday dismissive of the Brazil-Turkey deal, portraying it as a delaying tactic on the part of Tehran. “We weren’t surprised Iran was doing something that could forestall sanctions against them,” the White House’s spokesman, Bill Burton, said. He added: “We’re going to continue to apply pressure in every way we can … We’re going to continue until Iran lives up to its international obligations.”
Clinton, giving evidence to the Senate foreign relations committee, also interpreted the Brazil-Turkey deal as a delaying tactic on the part of Iran. “We don’t believe it was any accident that Iran agreed to this declaration as we are preparing to move forward in New York,” she said. Confirming the security council deal, she said: “We have reached agreement on a strong draft with the co-operation of both Russia and China.”
With all five permanent members of the security council on board, negotiations with the 10 temporary members would normally take two to four weeks. The US, Britain and France would like a unanimous resolution but Brazil and Turkey, after the rebuff of their initiative, may be hard to persuade. Previous sanctions have failed to persuade Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment programme, which the US and its allies suspect is a key stage in the development of a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran says its nuclear programme is purely for civilian purposes.
Western diplomats say sanctions alone will not bring Tehran round but, combined with other pressures, might lead to change. Israel has supported the push for sanctions while not ruling out an eventual military strike. It has already described Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon as a “red line”.