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U.N. Council imposes sanctions on Iran

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to impose new sanctions on Iran for its nuclear ambitions by targeting Tehran’s arms exports, state-owned bank and elite Revolutionary Guards.

Members of the U.N. Security Council, including British Ambassador to the U.N. Emyr Jones Parry (front L) and acting U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Alejandro Wolff (front R), vote to increase sanctions against Iran at the United Nations, in New York, March 24, 2007. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to tighten sanctions on Iran but without the presence of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had wanted to defend his country's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. REUTERS/Chip East

Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki immediately rejected the council’s demand to suspend uranium enrichment, which can be used for making bombs and to general electricity. He maintained Iran’s program was for peaceful purposes.

The resolution bans arms exports from Iran and freezes financial assets abroad of 28 Iranian individuals and entities, including its Bank Sepah, and the commanders and companies associated with the Revolutionary Guards.

It threatens further sanctions if Iran does not comply within 60 days. If it does, sanctions would be suspended.

U.S. representative Alejandro Wolff told the council that adoption of Resolution 1747 sent “a clear and unambiguous message to Iran” that the pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability “will only further isolate Iran and make it less, not more, secure,”

Addressing the council after the vote, Mottaki said the 15-member body had been manipulated by some of its members to take “unjustifiable action” against Iran’s nuclear program.

“I can assure you that pressure and intimidation will not change Iranian policy,” he said. “Suspension is neither an option nor a solution.”

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had wanted to speak to the 15-nation council but canceled his appearance because visas for his flight crew were delivered too late for his plane to arrive in New York before the vote. Washington disputes this.

But both Iran and the big powers, who drafted the resolution, offered further talks, although the sanctions would remain in place until Iran halted enrichment.

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“We propose further talks with the Islamic Republic of Iran to see if a mutually acceptable way can be found to open negotiations,” British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said on behalf of his own country, the United States, France, Russia, China and Germany.

In Brussels, the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said he had been asked by countries dealing with the Iran to contact Ali Larijani, Tehran’s main negotiator on nuclear issues “to see whether we can find a route to negotiations,” according to a statement.

INTENSIVE TALKS

The new measures are a follow-up to a resolution adopted on December 23 banning trade in sensitive nuclear materials and ballistic missiles, as well as freezing assets of individuals and institutions associated with atomic programs. Saturday’s sanctions go beyond the nuclear sphere.

The big powers held intensive negotiations over the past month and conducted talks until the last minute, first with South Africa and then with Indonesia and Qatar, who wanted a reference to a nuclear-free Middle East, which was inserted into the preamble.

Qatar’s U.N. ambassador Nassir Abdolaziz al-Nasser, the only Arab members of the council, spoke against the resolution for its potential to destabilize the Middle East. But he voted in favor, presumably because he did not want to be the only negative vote, after South Africa and Indonesia said “Yes.”

U.S. and European officials had wanted tougher sanctions, including a mandatory rather than a voluntary call on banks and financial institutions to stop dealing with Iran.

But they argued that the resolution penalized enough individuals and institutions to affect the economic and its military role in the Middle East, without touching the oil industry, the fourth largest in the world.

Iran’s Mottaki noted the scope of the resolution and said, “What can harming hundreds of thousands of depositors in Bank Sepah, with a 80-year history in Iran, mean other than confronting ordinary Iranians?”

In Washington, UnderSecretary of State Nicholas Burns said that the arms embargo was most significant in that it prohibits a transfer of Iranian weapons to Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas, the Palestinian Hamas movement, Syria or “to any state or terrorist organization.”

South Africa’s U.N. ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo, who had submitted amendments that deleted all the sanctions, said he voted in favor because of Pretoria’s opposition to nuclear weapons but criticized the resolution for penalizing Iranian institutions beyond the nuclear sphere.

Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols

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