By Louis Charbonneau
By Louis Charbonneau
November 7,2011,UNITED NATIONS (Reuters)
There is little chance that the U.N. Security Council will impose tough new sanctions on Iran anytime soon, despite a new U.N. report expected this week to contain evidence suggesting Iran wants atomic weapons.
The reason for this, Western diplomats say, is the reluctance of Tehran’s traditional sympathizers China and Russia, which have the power to veto any council resolution, to sanctionIran’s oil and gas sectors.
As a result, it will be hard to get anything out of the U.N. that is tougher than the last round of Iran sanctions passed in June 2010.
“The reality is that a new substantive step forward on sanctions will be very difficult,” a senior Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
“The last set of sanctions were very substantive, and essentially the next stage would be to go into the oil and gas sector,” he said. “If you get into the oil and gas sector, then obviously there will be opposition from Chinain particular, but also from Russia. More so China.”
China depends heavily on oil exports from Iran, the world’s fifth biggest crude exporter, to fuel its growing economy.
The report by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, due out later this week, may strengthen suspicions that Tehran is seeking to develop the capability to make atomic bombs but stop short of explicitly saying that it is doing so, diplomats said.
The IAEA report will arrive weeks after the United States accused Tehran of plotting to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington. Although Iran vehemently denied the allegation, the furore revived speculation that a new U.N. sanctions resolution against Tehran might be on the cards.
But U.S. hopes for fifth sanctions resolution by the 15-nation U.N. Security Council against Iran appear unrealistic, not least because many countries are sceptical about the U.S. plot allegations.
POWER PLANTS OR WEAPONS?
Tehran maintains that its nuclear energy program is simply to provide energy and has ignored U.N. demands to halt its uranium enrichment, which could produce fuel for nuclear power plants or weapons.
Four sets of U.N. sanctions passed since 2006 have hit Iran’s nuclear and missile industries and people linked to them. They have also targeted Iranian banks and other firms while steering clear ofIran’s energy sector.
Although Mosco wand Beijing backed all four rounds of U.N. sanctions they did so reluctantly and only after working hard to dilute the measures.
One diplomat said the combination of U.S., European Union and U.N. sanctions and sabotage operations like the Stuxnet computer virus that temporarily hobbled Iran’s enrichment program have succeeded in slowing Tehran’s nuclear progress.
If the U.N. Security Council does not act, diplomats say, the United States and its European allies will likely pursue unilateral national sanctions outside the United Nations.
It may be possible for the Security Council to add a few more names of Iranian individuals and entities linked to the U.N. blacklist of those facing travel bans and asset freezes, though Western diplomats say such moves would be symbolic.
“The U.N. is important because it’s the international community,” a diplomat told Reuters. “But you’re not going to stop Iran’s nuclear program with lowest common denominator sanctions by the U.N. Security Council.”
“The EU, the U.S. and others will have to wield the sledgehammer with national sanctions and drag the U.N. Security Council after them,” he said.
Russia has pushed for new negotiations with Tehran and is attempting to revive a stalled nuclear-fuel-swap deal that Iran accepted in October 2009 but later backed away from.
Russia and China are also keen to revive negotiations between Iran and the five permanent Security Council members and Germany, even though five years of fitful talks have led nowhere.
(Editing by Christopher Wilson)