South Africa Opposes Rush in Adoption of Iran Sanctions

A03966529.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- South Africa protested a “rush” by the five veto-wielding Security Council members to adopt new United Nations sanctions against Iran, saying it wants to wait for a report from the UN nuclear agency later this month.

The Security Council edged closer to adopting a third set of UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear progress despite reservations from some countries, with talks to continue Friday.

Envoys from the United States, Britain and France told reporters after consultations of the 15-member council Thursday that it had been agreed to pursue last-minute discussions on the text early Friday.

“Our intention is to vote on the resolution as soon as possible, probably on Saturday,” Britain’s UN Ambassador John Sawers said.

Adoption of the text, co-sponsored by Britain, France and Germany, is a foregone conclusion as it has already been agreed by the five veto-wielding members of the council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

And the sponsors say they have enough support among the 10 non-permanent members to ensure passage, which requires nine votes and no veto.

But Sawers said the co-sponsors were prepared “to go the extra mile … to get as much support as possible” for the draft which renews the council’s long-standing demand that Iran suspend uranium.

The Islamic republic insists its nuclear program is peaceful and geared only toward generating electricity.

Indonesia, Libya, South Africa and Vietnam — four non-aligned nations that are non-permanent council members — have voiced reservations about the need for a third set of sanctions since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported quite good progress in Iran’s efforts to come clean on its past nuclear activities.

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Vietnam on Thursday proposed some amendments to the draft that would reinforce the role of the IAEA in the Iranian nuclear dossier and would make clear that the proposed sanctions would not affect bilateral ties with Tehran.

He also said that South Africa promised to give its response to the sponsors Friday morning following Thursday’s talks between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki in Cape Town.

Sarkozy urged Mbeki to back the sanctions draft, saying the proposed steps were not aggressive “but it is necessary to do something to avoid the worst.”

But South Africa’s envoy to the IAEA Abdul Minty warned against any action “which can create the risk that Iran reduces or even terminates its cooperation with the IAEA.”

He told reporters in Pretoria by telephone conference from Oslo that the latest report by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, showed “increasing confidence that Iran does not intend to use its nuclear program for military purposes.”

Indonesia’s UN Ambassador Marty Natalegawa took an even tougher line against sanctions, hinting that his country might abstain during the vote. Libya might do the same, some diplomats said.

“We have yet to be convinced that more sanctions is the most reasonable way to go at this time,” Natalegawa told reporters.

China said Thursday that the new UN sanctions against Iran should not undermine trade, as a Chinese firm was reportedly preparing to sign a 16-billion-dollar energy deal with Tehran.

The council draft includes an outright travel ban by officials involved in Tehran’s nuclear and missile programs and inspections of shipments to and from Iran if there are suspicions of prohibited goods.

It also calls “upon states to exercise vigilance in entering into new commitments for public-provided financial support for trade with Iran, including the granting of export credits, guarantees or insurance to their nationals involved in such trade.”

Attached to the draft is an annex listing additional names of Iranian officials and entities subject to travel and financial sanctions.

Elsewhere Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki criticized in a letter to UN boss Ban Ki-moon what he described as “baseless accusations” by UN Security Council members about the Iranian nuclear drive.

The US is at loggerheads with Iran over Tehran’s independent and home-grown nuclear technology. Washington has laid much pressure on Iran to make it give up the most sensitive and advanced part of the technology, which is uranium enrichment, a process used for producing nuclear fuel for power plants.

Washington’s push for additional UN penalties contradicted the recent report by 16 US intelligence bodies that endorsed the civilian nature of Iran’s programs. Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and similar reports by the IAEA head – one in November and the other one on Friday – which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities and announced settlement of outstanding issues with Tehran, Russia and China increased resistance to any new punitive measures by the Security Council.

Tehran says it never worked on atomic weapons and wants to enrich uranium merely for civilian purposes, including generation of electricity, a claim substantiated by the NIE and IAEA reports.

Iran has insisted it would continue enriching uranium because it needs to provide fuel to a 300-megawatt light-water reactor it is building in the southwestern town of Darkhovin.

Not only many Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also many other world nations have called the UN Security Council pressure unjustified, especially in the wake of recent IAEA reports saying Iran had increased cooperation with the agency.

US President George W. Bush, who finished a tour of the Middle East earlier this month has called on his Arab allies to unite against Iran.

But hosting officials of the regional nations dismissed Bush’s allegations, describing Tehran as a good friend of their countries.

Bush’s attempt to rally international pressure against Iran has lost steam due to the growing international vigilance, specially following the latest IAEA and US intelligence reports.

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