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Iran Defends Its Nuclear Program, Condemns UN Sanctions

The U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions on Iran for its suspect nuclear program. The vote came nearly four months after Iran defied an earlier Council deadline to halt uranium enrichment. VOA's Peter Heinlein at the U.N. reports.

In a special Saturday session, the Council approved sanctions aimed at persuading Tehran to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

The support of veto-wielding Council members Russia and China had been in question during two months of negotiations on the text. Both have close commercial ties to Iran. But in the end, the vote was unanimous.

The measure prohibits the import or export of dangerous materials and technology that could be used in Iran's nuclear and missile programs. It also calls for a freeze on the assets of several Iranian individuals and companies involved in proliferation-related activities.

Addressing the Council before the vote, acting U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Alejandro Wolff warned Iran to consider the resolution an unequivocal message.

"Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons capability constitutes a grave threat, and demands a clear statement from this Council," said Wolff. "Today, we are placing Iran in small category of states under Security Council sanctions, and sending Iran an unambiguous message that there are serious repercussion to its continued disregard of its obligations and defiance of this body."

The sanctions will be legally binding under Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter. But they were approved under a clause of the charter that excludes the possibility that it can be enforced through military action.

Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said Moscow sees the sanctions as reversible, and the resolution as part of a diplomatic process of negotiation.

"The resolution clearly reaffirms that, if Iran suspends all activities relating to enrichment or chemical reprocessing of uranium, then the measures will be suspended, as spelled out in the resolution of the Security Council. This will make it possible to launch the negotiating process in the interests of a solid political settlement of the Iranian nuclear problem," noted Churkin.

Iran's U.N. ambassador, Jawed Zarif, condemned the measure. In a speech to the Council after the vote, Zarif defended Iran's right to nuclear technology. He accused the Council of double standards in imposing sanctions on what he called Tehran's peaceful nuclear program, while ignoring Israel's recently-declared nuclear status.

"It is indisputable that nuclear weapons in the hands of the Israeli regime, with an unparalleled record of noncompliance with Security Council resolutions poses a uniquely grave threat to regional and international peace and security," said Zarif.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman called the resolution "an illegal measure outside the jurisdiction of the Security Council and contradicting the regulations of the United Nations Charter." Iran has repeatedly said its nuclear program is peaceful, intended only for providing electricity.

Saturday's unanimous vote was achieved after sponsors Britain, France and Germany made some final changes to the text. Among them was dropping the name of Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization from the sanctions list. Some subsidiaries of the Aerospace Industries were, however, left on the list.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said after Saturday's vote that he would press ahead with investigations of Iran's nuclear program. The IAEA has been probing Tehran's proliferation-related activities since 2003.