Senior U.S. diplomat Nicholas Burns said Thursday he expects the United Nations to move quickly on sanctions if Iran rejects the Security Council demand that it halt uranium enrichment. Iran has until August 31 to respond to the council resolution.
Under Secretary Burns, the State Department's ranking career diplomat, says the Lebanon crisis has only added to international concerns about Iranian behavior, and he is expressing confidence Tehran will face sanctions if it defies the Security Council's nuclear resolution.
The Security Council late last month gave Iran until August 31 to suspend sensitive nuclear activities widely believed to be weapons-related, or face sanctions.
In a talk with reporters, Burns said the United States has an agreement with other permanent Security Council members, including Russia and China to seek sanctions if Iran fails to comply.
He said those penalties, under Article Seven of the U.N. Charter would be well-deserved. He said the will of many countries to stand up to Iran has been strengthened by what he said were its efforts to destabilize Lebanon and Israel in the last several weeks.
Iran has been sending mixed signals about its intentions. The country's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said this week his government may be willing to discuss an enrichment freeze, but other officials have insisted Iran will not give up what they say is its right to develop a complete fuel cycle for its nominally peaceful nuclear program.
Undersecretary Burns was not specific about what a sanctions package might include. And at a later news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey was similarly non-committal. He stressed that the point of the exercise is not to sanction Iran, but to get it to be responsive to international concerns about its nuclear intentions:
"The goal here isn't to apply sanctions on Iran," said Mr. Casey. "The goal here is to change Iranian behavior. And the change in behavior we want to see is Iranian compliance with this resolution, and with previous resolution by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] board of governors, with previous agreements that they've signed with the EU-Three [Britain, France and Germany] among others. And that is principally our focus."
Casey said there is still time for Iran to change its mind and end its defiance of the international community. Iran has said it would respond by August 22 to an international offer that it scrap its enrichment program in return for economic and other incentives.
The Security Council set the end-of-August deadline last month because of the lack of a response to the incentives plan by the five permanent Security Council members and Germany, which was formally presented to the Tehran government June 6.
A senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters here said Iran should expect a multi-stage sanctions process if it defies the Security Council, and that the initial phase would include visa restrictions and an asset freeze targeted at the Tehran leadership.
Administration officials have acknowledged that more serious penalties, such as trade sanctions, may occur outside the U.N. framework, because veto-wielding council members Russia and China might not support them.