LONDON U.S. allies are prepared to implement sanctions against Iran that go "well beyond" those contained in a U.N. resolution that looks set to be adopted in the coming days, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
Gates said on Tuesday after talks with his British counterpart Liam Fox that the U.N. Security Council could adopt a new sanctions resolution as early as Wednesday or Thursday, capping a months-long, U.S.-led effort to further isolate Iran.
The resolution would, in turn, lay the ground for individual states and organizations like the European Union to impose penalties that "go well beyond the resolution itself," he said. He added that the window for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons had not yet closed.
The United States and other major powers are at loggerheads with Iran over its uranium enrichment program, which they believe is a cover to build a nuclear bomb but which Iran insists is for the peaceful generation of electricity.
"I'm optimistic that the Security Council will vote a resolution," Gates told a news conference.
Gates said it was unclear if the U.N. body would act on Wednesday or Thursday but was hopeful a resolution would be passed "very soon."
The draft resolution calls for measures against new Iranian banks abroad if a connection to Iran's nuclear or missile programs is suspected, as well as vigilance over transactions with any Iranian bank, including the central bank. It would also expand the U.N. arms embargo against Tehran.
"One of the many benefits of the resolution is that it will provide a legal platform for individual nations to then take additional actions that go well beyond the resolution itself. I believe that a number of nations are prepared to act pretty promptly," Gates said.
The U.N. resolution's passage would represent a major foreign policy success for President Barack Obama, whose administration has been working for months to persuade Security Council veto-wielding members Russia and China that Iran's nuclear programme poses a global security risk.
"I do not think we have lost the opportunity to stop the Iranians from ... developing nuclear weapons," Gates said. "I think that the clock is ticking but I think that if there is international cooperation... we have the potential to stop the development of this weapon."
(Reporting by Adam Entous; Editing by Noah Barkin)