Powers agree modest new Iran sanctions draft

By Noah Barkin, Sue Pleming

BERLIN - World powers agreed on Tuesday on the outlines of a new sanctions resolution against Iran, but diplomats said the draft did not contain the punitive economic measures that Washington had been pushing for.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said following a nearly 2-hour meeting with his counterparts from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, that the new draft would be presented to the UN Security Council in the coming weeks.

"We are united in the view that a nuclear armed Iran would have dramatic consequences for the Middle East and further afield," Steinmeier said.

"Today we together agreed on the content of ... a new resolution. Germany, France and Britain will submit a draft resolution in the coming weeks which will be discussed with the members of the Security Council."

The West has been engaged in a diplomatic showdown with Iran since 2002 and the Security Council has already imposed two sets of sanctions, in December 2006 and March 2007.

Western powers suspect Iran of pursuing an atomic bomb, but Iran says its nuclear work is for peaceful power generation.

Washington has spearheaded a months-long drive for new sanctions and had been pushing for a new resolution to impose a ban on business with leading Iranian state banks.

But that drive appears to have failed. Russia and China, both commercial partners of Iran, have hardened their opposition to tough sanctions since a US intelligence report last month said Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003.

Iran vowed earlier on Tuesday that new sanctions would not stop it from pursuing its "legitimate and legal right" to nuclear energy.

Steinmeier was the only foreign minister to speak after the meeting and the ministers left the podium without answering questions from journalists.

While the United States declared victory in getting agreement on the resolution, details were scant and it appeared the measures may have been watered down for a show of unity.

A senior US official said the new resolution foresaw travel bans and asset freezes as punitive measures for Iran's nuclear programme.

"The US is pleased as this tells the Iranians that they are not out of the woods yet," the official said.

But a European diplomat, who requested anonymity, said the draft resolution did not include punitive economic sanctions and lacked the strong wording on Iranian state banks that the United States wanted.

Instead, the diplomat said, the draft urged "vigilance" on Iranian banks and on publicly provided credits to Iran - vague wording that Russia had favoured.

Another European official described the talks as "open and constructive" and said the ministers had made last-minute changes to the draft only 15 minutes before the start of the news conference.

The US official said all sides had agreed not to reveal details of the resolution until it was passed on to the other 10 members of the UN Security Council in New York.

- REUTERS

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