U.N. Iran sanctions vote not ready yet: diplomats
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council will probably not vote on a third sanctions resolution targeting Iran's atomic program until after a key report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog is issued, diplomats said on Tuesday.
Washington has been pushing for a swift vote. But Security Council member South Africa has been pressing the five permanent council members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- to wait until the International Atomic Energy Agency issues a report on Iran next week.
"The vote is not specifically tied to the IAEA report, but it just so happens that by the time we get around to voting on it, it will most likely be after the report is out," a European diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Western countries say the IAEA's investigation of Iran's past nuclear activities is important but has little relevance to the future of Tehran's atomic program, which they fear may one day be used to make nuclear weapons.
They say Iran's refusal to comply with Security Council demands that it stop enriching uranium supports their suspicion that Tehran is seeking atomic weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and enrichment a sovereign right.
South Africa and other members of the Non-Aligned Movement say the IAEA's investigation is relevant and want the council to wait until it has as much information as possible.
The draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, calls for asset freezes and mandatory travel bans for specific Iranian officials and vigilance on all banks in Iran. It also repeats the council's demand that Iran halt nuclear enrichment activity.
A U.S. official said the vote could come any day and would not need to wait for IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei's report, which diplomats say will announce that the agency has resolved most outstanding questions about Iran's past nuclear activity.
"There is nothing holding this up other than trying to get agreement," the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. "As soon as that happens, we will vote."
CONCERNS FROM LIBYA AND VIETNAM
Several other diplomats said the vote would likely come in late February or early March. France, Britain and Germany, the resolution's sponsors, can accept this timetable, they said.
Waiting for the IAEA report will help them by ensuring they get a 'yes' vote from South Africa, several diplomats said.
Diplomats said concerns from Libya and Vietnam were also holding up the vote. Libya, which until recently was the target of U.N. sanctions, opposes sanctions in general while Vietnam is unwilling to interfere in other countries' affairs, they said.
But the five permanent council members are reluctant to make major changes to the draft resolution, diplomats said.
A U.S. intelligence report released in December said Iran had a nuclear weapons program but abandoned it in 2003. Several Western diplomats have said the new resolution, which they described as a mild step up from previous sanctions, was the best they could do given the surprising new U.S. report.
A European diplomat hoped the resolution would pass unanimously, adding that it was worth waiting for if it meant that all 15 council members would vote for it.
"It's a much stronger signal if the vote is 15 to zero," the diplomat said. "But it may not be unanimous and any resolution passed by the Security Council is a strong signal."
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)