The U.N. Security Council passed a new round of sanctions against Iran today for its failure to comply with previous resolutions demanding Tehran halt its nuclear enrichment program. The new measures build on previous sanctions and pave the way for European countries to take their own punitive steps.
Resolution 1929 passed 12-2 with Brazil and Turkey voting against the measure. In a surprise move, Lebanon, whose government includes members of the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah, abstained from the vote, which was delayed to allow those three countries to consult with their governments after last-minute diplomatic efforts by the United States and others. Earlier this morning Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, according to a U.S. official.
The complete resolution as passed can be read HERE.
"Today the Security Council has responded decisively to the grave threat to international peace and security posed by Iran's failure to live up to its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said after the vote.
"These are the most comprehensive sanctions that the Iranian government has faced," President Obama said later from Washington.
"These sanctions show the united view of the international community that a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is in nobody's interest. And that nations must be held accountable for challenging the global nonproliferation regime," he added.
The U.S. and others have said the new sanctions are needed in order to change Iran's behavior and convince them to suspend nuclear activity and return to the negotiating table.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, however, that he would do no such thing.
"If the U.S. and its allies think they could hold the stick of sanctions and then sit and negotiate with us, they are seriously mistaken," he said, according to Iran's Press TV.
Following the vote, Reuters quoted a senior Iranian official in Vienna saying Iran would not suspend its nuclear enrichment activities after the sanctions.
In response, Obama said today: "We know that the Iranian government will not change its behavior overnight. But today's vote demonstrates the growing costs that will come with Iranian intransigence."
Earlier this year Iran announced it would further enrich its uranium to 20 percent in defiance of international demands it halt such activity. It also announced it would begin constructing new nuclear facilities.
This latest round of sanctions, the fourth such resolution passed against Iran, ratchets up existing sanctions on Iran and adds new measures as well. It targets Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has expanded its business and financial holdings significantly in recent years, as well as IRISL, Iran's official shipping lines.
It toughens financial sanctions and expands an arms embargo by banning the sale of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and spare parts to Iran. It also allows for the inspection of Iranian cargo in ports and on the high seas.
It sanctions 22 entities tied with the Revolutionary Guard Corps, including the Malek Ashtar University which is alleged to be connected to Iran's nuclear R&D program. Curiously, the resolution sanctions just one individual, Javad Rahiqi, who heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Esfahan Nuclear Technology Center. Previous resolutions had added 10 to 15 individuals to the sanctions list.
The resolution does not, however, target Iran's lucrative oil and natural gas sector in large part because energy hungry China, which holds veto power on the Security Council, has significant investments there.
"The decision of Turkey and Brazil to vote no on the resolution is a blow to the Obama administration, though one that is offset partially by unity among the Perm-5 [Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States]," said Jacqueline Shire, senior analyst with the Institute for Science and International Security.
"People can disagree over the efficacy of sanctions, the most of the evidence points to a minimal impact, but these sanctions are more than symbolic. Both the political and economic costs of Iran doing business as usual are increasing. The objective now is to find a way back to the negotiating table."
Wednesday's vote was the culmination of months of negotiations lead by the United States and its European allies pushing for tougher measures on Iran.
In October the so-called P5+1, the permanent five members of the Security Council plus Germany, offered Iran a deal whereby much of its uranium stockpile would be sent abroad for enrichment. In return, Iran would receive fuel that could be used in the Tehran Research Reactor for the production of medical isotopes. The deal was designed to take away Iran's uranium stockpiles to prevent it from enriching it to a level that could be used in a nuclear weapon if Tehran decided to pursue one.
Three weeks ago, however, Turkey and Brazil inked a very similar deal with Iran that was not warmly received by the U.S. and its allies. Washington argued that the deal was no longer valid because Iran is believed to have doubled its uranium stockpile since October, meaning even after the swap under the agreement it would have enough uranium left over to create the fuel for a bomb if it wanted to.
This week Brazil and Turkey pushed for open meetings of the Security Council during which they could voice their opposition to the sanctions in light of their diplomatic efforts. In voting against the resolution today, Brazil's U.N. ambassador cited the fuel swap deal with Iran saying additional sanctions would prevent rather than lead to a negotiated solution.
Turkey's ambassador urged the council to allow time for the deal to be implemented before passing sanctions, saying tougher measures now would hurt the diplomatic momentum.