UNITED NATIONS, March 7 (Reuters) - The United States has agreed with Britain, France and Germany on a draft proposal for a fourth round of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program and circulated it to Russia and China for comments.
Russia's initial reaction to the new proposal has been negative, Western diplomats say, though Moscow has said it supports in principle the idea of new punitive steps against Tehran for defying five U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that it halt its nuclear enrichment program.
China has yet to react, the diplomats said.
Iran rejects Western charges that it is secretly developing atomic weapons and says the goal of its nuclear program is generation of electricity and other peaceful activities.
WHO IS DRAFTING THE NEW SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN?
The United States, Britain, France and Germany had been exchanging ideas for weeks on a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran. They now aim to persuade Russia and China to back the latest proposal, which was drafted by the United States.
Both Russia and China have lucrative business ties with Iran, which Western diplomats say is one of the main reasons that Moscow and Beijing have been reluctant to support any punitive U.N. measures against Tehran.
Except for Germany, all of those in the group have veto power on the Security Council and can block any resolution.
Western officials involved in the six-power negotiations say Russia has been losing patience with Tehran and will likely support new sanctions, though it opposes measures that it deems too tough, such as sanctions on Iran's energy sector.
Western diplomats say they will work hard to win Beijing over, even if it means diluting proposed measures.
WHERE ARE SANCTIONS DISCUSSIONS AT NOW?
The United States, Britain, France and Germany would like to hold a conference call with Russia and China to discuss the proposal but Beijing is resisting. The four Western powers hope China will agree to discussions soon so they can get a draft sanctions resolution to the full 15-nation Security Council.
Russia and China can be expected to work hard to water down any proposed measures as they did with the three previous sanctions resolutions passed in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
So far negotiations are being conducted between the six countries' capitals. Once the group has agreed on the wording of a draft resolution, negotiations will be taken over by U.N. missions in New York and the full Security Council will join.
WHAT NEW SANCTIONS ARE BEING PROPOSED?
The latest proposals include the following measures:
- Restrictions on new Iranian banks established abroad, a measure that some diplomats say would amount to a ban;
- It would urge vigilance regarding transactions linked to Iran's central bank, but would not officially blacklist it as the Western powers had originally suggested;
- It would restrict insurance and reinsurance firms from insuring cargo shipments to and from Iran;
- There would be additional Iranian individuals and companies facing travel bans and asset freezes, with a new focus on members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and companies controlled by it;
- Some shipping companies would be blacklisted, including the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines;
- Limits on arms trade with Iran would be expanded into a full arms embarbo with an inspection regime.
- It does not include sanctions targeting Iran's oil and gas sectors as the French had originally pushed for.
HOW WILL CHINA AND OTHERS VOTE?
China has given no clear signals on how it will vote on a new sanctions resolution, though it has repeatedly called for further dialogue with Tehran and said it does not believe it is the time is for more sanctions.
However, Western diplomats predict that China will not veto new steps against Iran if Russia supports them. While Iran is an important energy supplier for China, Bejing's ties with the United States are extremely important, they say.
Russia would likely vote in favor of a weak sanctions resolution resulting in 10 or 11 yes votes, Western diplomats predict. But they have varying predictions on how China will vote, with some expected a yes and others an abstention.
Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon have made clear they would have difficulty supporting new sanctions against Tehran. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran, is an important faction in Lebanon's government.
U.S., British, French and German officials are lobbying Turkey and Brazil to secure their support, so far without success. Diplomats say Lebanon will likely abstain.
WHAT'S THE TIMETABLE FOR NEW SANCTIONS?
Western diplomats hope to get an agreement on elements for a new sanctions resolution among the six powers this month and a resolution approved by the Security Council next month.
It is possible, they say, that negotiations on a resolution will come to a head around the time of U.S. President Barack Obama's nuclear security summit in Washington in mid-April.
Western powers hope the issue will be resolved before a month-long conference on the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty opens in early May. But diplomats say it is possible negotiations will continue into May. (Editing by Eric Walsh)
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