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US: No Sanctions in Early Security Council Iran Debate

The Bush administration said Wednesday it will not seek sanctions against Iran in the first stage of U.N. Security Council deliberations on the Iranian nuclear program. The State Department said it hopes the spotlight of global attention in the council will prompt Iran to change course.

While both Russia and China supported the referral of the Iranian issue to the Security Council, neither of the permanent council members has shown any enthusiasm for imposing U.N. sanctions against Tehran.

The United States, accordingly, is setting only a modest initial agenda as the Security Council nears its first consultations on the Iranian nuclear issue next week.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had indicated at a press appearance Tuesday that the United States is not going to seek sanctions as a first step.

Instead, the spokesman said, U.S. diplomats will focus their efforts at obtaining a so-called president's statement laying out exactly what the Security Council expects Iran to do.

He made clear the United States is not foreclosing a formal Security Council resolution, or sanctions, as options later in the process. But he suggested the Bush administration had already achieved a diplomatic advance in moving the issue from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Security Council.

McCormack said it is hoped that the increased international scrutiny inherent in that move might prompt Iran to back away from what the United States believes is a secret nuclear weapons drive, and restore a suspension of uranium-enrichment activities:

"You've seen a gradual ratcheting up of the pressure on Iran," he said. "I think right now the Iranian regime finds itself in a very uncomfortable position. There's going to be a bright spotlight that shines on the behavior of the Iranian regime up in New York, starting next week. That is not a place where they want to find themselves. So this is absolutely part of our diplomatic strategy in working with other members of the international community."

The spokesman said the Security Council referral by the IAEA governing board was evidence of a shift in world sentiment against Iran, and that the level of trust in Iran's assertions that it is not in violation of its nuclear non-proliferation obligations has eroded to zero.

McCormack brushed aside an Iranian assertion Wednesday that it could inflict harm and pain on the United States to match any Security Council punishment that might be forthcoming.

He said the statement was part of a failing effort by Tehran to depict the nuclear case as a matter of between Iran and the United States, rather than what it is: an issue between Iran and the rest of the world.

At the United Nations in New York, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said imposing U.N. sanctions has been ineffective in recent history in solving crises and that the IAEA should remain in the lead on the Iran issue.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing appealed Tuesday for more negotiations and suggested that Security Council involvement was not needed.