UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. negotiators sought on Wednesday to bridge differences with South Africa on sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, with the United States stressing the importance of Russian pressure on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.
But after two hours of talks in the 15-nation Security Council, no consensus was reached on a draft resolution drawn up by Germany and the five permanent members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — after a month of intensive talks. The negotiators then had a private session on what compromises could be made.
No vote has been set but South Africa’s U.N. ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo, the current council president, doubted it would happen this week because any changes would have to be sent to 15 governments for approval.
Pretoria has proposed amendments that strip the text of its key provisions — a ban on Iranian exports on all weapons and financial restrictions on Iranian officials and institutions.
But France’s U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, still held out hope, saying “Our wish is to have the resolution by the end of the week.”
Tehran remained defiant in meeting the council’s demand that it suspend uranium enrichment work, which can be used for bomb making as well as peaceful purposes. Iran says its work is for generating electricity but the United States and leading Europeans say Tehran wants to build a nuclear weapon.
And on Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned against any attack on his country.
“If they want to threaten us and use force and violence against us, they should not doubt that Iranian officials will use all they have in their power to deal a blow to those who assault them,” he said in a televised speech.
At the United Nations, South Africa’s proposals would delete the new resolution’s main elements, including names on a list subject to a freeze of financial assets abroad. These include Revolutionary Guard commanders and companies they control as well as the state-owned Bank Sepah.
Pretoria’s main criticism is that the resolution, a follow-up to one adopted in December that imposed sanctions on trade in sensitive nuclear materials, would impose penalties outside of the atomic sphere.
South Africa also wants a 90-day timeout in imposing any new and previous sanctions, which Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, called “perverse,” saying that talks had been going on with Iran for years.
“Every time we paused Iran then came round and said the pause was terribly useful because ‘we were able to develop and enhance our nuclear capability,’” Jones Parry said.
“Iran is in non-compliance with mandatory obligations imposed by the Security Council,” he said “We think it would be perverse in response to that situation to say ‘oh by the way we now lift the obligations which currently apply to Iran.’”
In Washington Nicholas Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state, praised Russia for putting its own pressure on Iran.
He told a congressional committee that Russia’s recent decision to delay delivering fuel for an Iranian nuclear reactor it is constructing was significant and showed Moscow would no longer do “business as usual” with Tehran because of proliferation concerns.
Burns cited the Russian position as evidence that Washington’s diplomatic effort to isolate Tehran was making progress.
Russia has attributed the delay in fuel to financial disputes with Iran. But U.S. and European officials say Moscow has become increasingly concerned that Iran may be developing nuclear weapons.
The U.N. resolution can be adopted without Pretoria’s consent. However, the major powers would like a unanimous vote and no abstentions from an influential country like South Africa and want the support of Islamic nations like Indonesia and Qatar.
Indonesia would like the resolution to call for “a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East,” said its U.N. ambassador, Rezlan Ishar Jenie. He said he also wanted a better explanation of the names on the list.
Additional reporting by Carol Giacomo in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations