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IRAN: U.N. sanctions weighed

By Nicholas Kralev
Source: The Washington Times
The United States and other major powers began drafting new U.N. sanctions against Iran yesterday despite a U.S. intelligence estimate that Tehran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003, but serious differences with Russia and China remain, diplomats said.

Senior officials from the five countries with permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council held the most specific talks yet on a third resolution during a 90-minute conference call, the State Department said.

Britain and France also hold permanent seats on the council, and Germany is part of the discussions as well.

Iran had been given a Nov. 30 deadline to suspend its uranium-enrichment program, which can be used to build a nuclear weapon.

"We are not talking about whether or not there is going to be a resolution, but we are talking about what are the elements to a new Security Council resolution," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

"We are not there yet, but our hope … is that in the coming weeks we could have a resolution that is voted on in the Security Council," he said.

Mr. McCormack declined to identify proposed measures against Iran, but diplomats said the resolution would further tighten economic and travel sanctions.

Economic and trade penalties are the most difficult to win Russian and Chinese consent because the nations have extensive economic ties with Iran.

Diplomats said some measures may be taken against the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which Washington has labeled a supporter of terrorism. Such action would not hurt anyone’s economic interests, they said.

U.S. officials said sanctions have had an effect on Iran’s economy, as well as on the willingness of foreign banks and other financial institutions to do business with the Islamic republic.

The National Intelligence Estimate released last week surprised observers because President Bush had been warning that Tehran was pursuing a nuclear weapon. The estimate is likely to help a bid by Moscow and Beijing to minimize the effects of a new sanctions resolution, diplomats and analysts said.

Mr. Bush urged Iran yesterday to explain why it had a secret nuclear program until 2003.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the latest intelligence report "a positive step" and "a step forward."

"If they take one or two more such steps, the issues will be totally changed and … the way will be paved for the resolution of regional and bilateral issues," he told reporters in Tehran.

In Washington, an Iranian exile opposition group that has exposed much of Tehran’s secret nuclear efforts in recent years criticized the intelligence estimate.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, an analyst with the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, said Tehran razed a key military complex in the capital in December 2003, after his group helped expose research and testing on nuclear weapons there.

But Iran resumed the military nuclear programs months later at another site, with top officials of the Revolutionary Guard increasingly dominating the effort, Mr. Jafarzadeh said.

The U.S. intelligence estimate "simply does not provide an accurate assessment of the active state of Iran’s nuclear programs," he said, adding that U.S. officials were the victims of an Iranian "disinformation campaign."

– David R. Sands contributed to this article.