UNITED NATIONS, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Western envoys said the
U.N. Security Council would probably vote on Saturday to impose
a third round of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program,
which Tehran said would be an illegal gesture to be ignored.
Iran denies Western charges it seeks nuclear weapons and
has ignored three previous Security Council resolutions
demanding it freeze its uranium enrichment program, which can
produce fuel for nuclear power plants or atomic weapons.
The five permanent council members -- the United States,
Britain, France, China and Russia -- and Germany, which is not
on the council, agreed in Berlin on Jan. 22 on a draft text
outlining a third round of sanctions against Tehran.
Washington had hoped for a swift vote on the sanctions text
but negotiations have dragged on for over a month. But U.S. and
British envoys said it looked as if a vote was finally near.
"We thought it was perfectly reasonable to (finalize the
resolution) tomorrow and to vote on this important issue on
Saturday," said U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
Washington had been pushing for a vote on Friday.
Khalilzad's British counterpart, John Sawers, agreed the
vote would probably be on Saturday but did not rule out another
"Had we put it to a vote today the resolution would
clearly have passed, but we want to have as much support as is
possible," Sawers said. "One delegation has suggested some
small amendments which we're reflecting upon."
Diplomats said he was referring to a proposal from Vietnam,
one of four council members that have expressed concerns about
the resolution drafted by Britain, France and Germany.
Diplomats also said South Africa, which has said it wanted
to delay the sanctions vote, had requested a meeting with the
European co-sponsors on Friday to discuss the resolution.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin reiterated that Moscow
would support the resolution, which it has helped draft, albeit
reluctantly, during meetings of the six powers.
"It is always with a heavy heart that we are considering
sanctions resolutions," Churkin said.
Another of the skeptics, Indonesia, indicated it might
abstain or even vote against the resolution.
"We are yet to be convinced that more sanctions is the
reasonable way to go at this time," its ambassador, Marty
Natalegawa, said. Indonesia voted for the last sanctions
resolution against Iran that was adopted in March 2007.
Libya's ambassador, Giadallah Ettalhi, indicated on Monday
that he would probably vote against the resolution.
Even without the votes of Libya, Vietnam, Indonesia and
South Africa, the resolution has 11 out of 15 council members
-- including all the permanent members -- ready to support it,
so it seems certain to be approved.
The draft resolution calls for more travel and financial
restrictions on named Iranian individuals and companies and
makes some restrictions mandatory. Two earlier sanctions rounds
were approved unanimously in December 2006 and March 2007.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki wrote a letter
to the council arguing that sanctions against Iran lacked any
legal basis and only undermined the council's credibility.
Mottaki said a recent report from the U.N. nuclear watchdog
citing progress in its investigation of Iran's past nuclear
activities proved the Security Council had no right to punish
Tehran for continuing its enrichment program.
"All the so-called justifications and flawed foundations
for the U.N. Security Council's action on this issue are
vanished and it shows that the resolutions ... lack any legal
and technical justifications," Mottaki wrote.
The letter, addressed to Panamanian Ambassador Ricardo
Alberto Arias, the council's current president, was dated Feb.
27 and circulated to reporters on Thursday.
"Naturally the continuation of this trend (of sanctions)
would undermine the credibility of the Security Council and ...
weaken the integrity and position of the IAEA," Mottaki wrote.
The report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
was mixed, saying Iran had not responded adequately to Western
intelligence allegations of work linked to making atomic bombs
but had clarified issues related to other past nuclear work.
Western countries do not believe the IAEA report vindicated
Iran, as Mottaki argues. They say it raises serious concerns.
Iran's U.N. ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, said Tehran had
no intention of curtailing cooperation with the IAEA even if
the resolution is passed.
But, he said, Iran will keep enriching uranium. "Suspension
I think is out of the question," he said.