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US and partners react quickly to Iran's uranium deal with new sanctions

Iran may not have expected a warm embrace after announcing its enrichment deal with Brazil and Turkey Monday but the speed of the new sanctions drafted by the US and presented to the UN will have left Tehran reeling.

Barack Obama and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The US reacts to Iran's uranium deal with new draft sanctions

It took the United States less than a day to respond to Monday's announcement by Iran that it had agreed to a deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey which would see quantities of its enriched uranium turned into fuel rods for civilian energy use outside the country.

Instead of embracing the deal as a potential breakthrough in the long-running nuclear stand-off with Tehran, Washington reacted to the agreement by presenting the UN Security Council with a draft resolution which could lead to expanded sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

The deal struck between Iranian, Brazilian and Turkish leaders over the weekend was cautiously celebrated by some experts who saw Iran's perceived change of position over having its uranium enriched to a lower, non-weapons grade level abroad as a positive step to a peaceful resolution.

After warnings from a host of European countries and UN officials that the Brazil-Turkey deal would not eliminate the need for new sanctions against Iran, the US handed in a draft of extended restrictions it hopes will pressure Iran into complying with the West's full range of demands.

US and partners focus on Iran's banks and finances

An Iranian clergy man walks past missiles during a a large-scale air defence manoeuvre staged by the Iranian revolutionary guards at an unknown location

The new sanctions aim to crack down on any financing of Iran's nuclear or weapons programs

With the belief in Washington that the deal is just the latest in a long list of attempts by Iran to delay UN action, US Ambassador Susan Rice said in a statement that the Brazil-Turkey deal had "nothing to do" with the uranium enrichment and that the new sanctions would make it harder for Iran to continue to reject UN demands to halt its enrichment program.

The 10-page draft - agreed by the US, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia - calls on states to take appropriate measures that prohibit the opening of new Iranian bank branches or offices abroad and to exercise vigilance over transactions involving Iranian banks, including the Central Bank of Iran, if there is reason to suspect they might be aiding Iran's nuclear or missile programs.

The draft, which would represent a fourth round of UN sanctions against Tehran, also includes a section regarding Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, advising states that some of its members and companies it controls should be added to existing lists of individuals and firms facing asset freezes and travel bans. In addition, the draft calls for an expansion of an already existing arms embargo to include more types of heavy weapons.

Rapid reaction suggests a pre-prepared strategy

Members of the Security Council of United Nations in session

The US and its partners already had a draft prepared to present to the United Nations Security Council

The speed of the US rebuff to the Brazil-Turkey brokered deal and the detailed nature of the new draft of sanctions suggests that they had been agreed upon well in advance and were ready for presentation to the UN, regardless of the outcome of the trilateral meeting in Tehran.

Dr. Mehrdad Khonsari, a senior research consultant to the London-based Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, believes that while the US and its partners were well-prepared to present the new sanctions, they were not the only ones moving at speed.

"These sanctions were coming either way and would have been ready to go but the reality is that Iran knew this and moved to get the Brazil-Turkey deal completed before this as to delay the sanctions as much as possible. This deal was designed as a spanner in the works. What the US has essentially done is just ignore the deal and, just like Iran, is pursuing its own interests and agenda regardless."

Russian, Chinese support for sanctions prompts surprise

Presidents and foreign ministers of Brazil , Iran and Turkey raise their arms in unity in front of the media 17 May 2010 in Tehran , Iran , after signing an agreement to ship Iran's low enriched uranium to Turkey to exchange with nuclear fuel for a Tehran reactor.

Experts expected the Iran-Brazil-Turkey enrichment deal to reinforce Russia and China's position

What was just as surprising as the speed of the response was the inclusion of Russia and China in the list of nations agreeing to the draft. Both permanent Security Council members had been strong opponents of new sanctions and the enrichment deal was seen by some experts as an opportunity for Russia and China to cement their position by claiming that the agreement reduced further the need for extended restrictions on Iran.

Russia and China had long sought to dilute the tougher sanctions advocated by the United States and its three European allies, especially those hitting Iran's troubled economy, but their agreement to the new draft suggests that a series of compromises were reached which convinced the two powers of the usefulness of new sanctions.

Chinese Ambassador to the UN Li Baodong told reporters that the purpose of the sanctions was to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table and not to punish innocent people. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the draft was written in "language we can live with."

"The US has done much to accomodate China and Russia in recent months," Dr. Khonsari said. "China withheld support over US arms sales to Taiwan and Russia had been put off by the attitude of the previous Bush administration but Obama has made progress with both."

"These sanctions, however, don't really infringe of Russia and China's postion," he added. "They are weak and remain consistent with their demands over how much pressure can be put on Iran. They know this situation won't be settled by these sanctions so they can safely support them without losing face."

Iran defiant as world powers crank up pressure

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

While remaining defiant against his international rivals, Ahmadinejad must appease domestic forces

Iran may have been surprised by the speed of the sanctions but the mood in Tehran soon returned to one of defiance with Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi saying that the major powers would be "discrediting" themselves if they went ahead with the new sanctions and that the new draft was the last desperate effort of the West to impose their influence.

Salehi, who is also the head of Iran's atomic energy organisation, said that the new sanctions showed that the West feared developing countries which were able to defend their rights in the world arena without deferring to the major powers. He also expressed his scepticism that sanctions would be approved. "I think there are some rational people among them who will stop them from making this irrational move," he told reporters in Tehran.

However, with all five veto-wielding Security Council members backing the draft, a revised version of the proposed extended sanctions is likely to be approved when the 15-nation council votes on the resolution early next month.

Dr. Sami Alfaraj, president of the Kuwait Centre for Strategic Studies and an expert on nuclear proliferation and Gulf affairs, believes that the sanctions will have little effect on Iran's stance and that it will continue to be business as usual.

"As always, the Iranian government has managed to agree to some parts of the international demands through this enrichment deal and reject others in an attempt to appease its domestic support," he told Deutsche Welle. "Tehran can now say that it has executed what the UN wanted from it while continuing to follow its own plans and showing that it won't bow to pressure."

"Iran will continue to play tough even as the sanctions hit and the regime will be eager to show that the international community is against it in the hope that opponents to the sanctions will join with Iran in the coming months."

Dr. Khonsari agrees: "These sanctions are of insufficient weight to change Iran's attitude and stance," he said. "These sanctions will be agreed by the Security Council - even if Brazil, Turkey and maybe even China abstain - but it will make no difference to the current situation."

"However, more useless sanctions may be even more dangerous for Iran. As long as this pattern continues without any resolution, the longer the door remains open to some form of military action which would be the worst case scenario."

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Rob Mudge

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