BERLIN -- In a bid to ratchet up pressure on Iran to end its uranium enrichment program, six leading world powers agreed yesterday to introduce a new United Nations resolution likely to tighten sanctions against the Islamic republic.
Ending months of foot-dragging on the part of Russia and China, the agreement clears the way for Germany, France and Britain to submit a new resolution to the U.N. Security Council to escalate political and economic constraints on Tehran. The hope is that the sanctions might persuade Iran to abandon a uranium enrichment program that the United States says could be used to develop nuclear weapons.
The content of the resolution was not disclosed, but sources familiar with the negotiations said it would likely involve a mild increase in existing sanctions, including asset freezes, expansion of existing travel restrictions and visa bans targeting Iranian government officials and those connected to Iran's nuclear program.
"I thank my colleagues that we have found an agreement after an intense and not always easy discussion," German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after a meeting of foreign ministers from the five nations of the council, plus Germany. "We have agreed that we have to work to hinder Iran from getting a nuclear arms program."
There was no immediate official reaction from Iran, which earlier had dismissed the idea of new sanctions and said a stepped-up resolution would not force the country to halt its nuclear program.
"The Iranian nation moves in the framework of its legitimate and legal rights ... and a possible ratification of a new resolution will not have an impact on our nation's behavior," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told a news conference earlier in the day, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.
Abulfazal Amoee, a political scientist close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said the new draft "will be baseless from the standpoint of international law" because the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate disclosed last month that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
The estimate says Iran could nonetheless be capable of building a weapon by 2009.
"On the whole, as we can see in the streets, common people will not pay attention to these sanctions, though perhaps investors or big importers or exporters may have second thoughts about doing business in Iran," Amoee said in a telephone interview in Tehran.
If approved, the new resolution would be the third adopted by the United Nations. The last one, which took effect in 2006, imposes measures to halt the sale of equipment and technology for Iran's uranium enrichment, heavy water reactor and nuclear weapons delivery programs.
Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior nonproliferation expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, said it was clear going into yesterday's talks that they would not involve any significant economic sanctions, such as a halt to gasoline sales to Iran or a block on Iranian oil and gas exports - the only kind of measures that might be likely to produce an immediate and significant effect. Russia and China - and sometimes western European countries - have opposed such measures.
Rather, he said, the negotiations appeared to be focusing on expanding the number of individuals and organizations subject to travel and business bans.
Christian Retzlaff and Kim Murphy write for the Los Angeles Times.