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South Africa Seeks to Ease Proposed UN Sanctions On Iran


South Africa is asking the U.N. Security Council to reopen negotiations on a draft resolution increasing penalties against Iran for its nuclear program. The resolution had earlier been agreed on by world powers. Correspondent Peter Heinlein at U.N. headquarters reports the South African request could delay adoption of the measure.

South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo Monday submitted a series of proposals aimed at weakening an Iran sanctions resolution proposed by world powers after weeks of intense negotiations.

The draft submitted by the permanent members and Germany last week would ratchet up penalties contained in an earlier sanctions resolution adopted last December, after Iran defied a Council demand that it halt uranium enrichment.

The new penalties by the big powers include a ban on Iranian arms exports, and an expanded list of individuals and entities covered by an assets freeze and travel restrictions.

A copy of the South African proposals obtained by VOA shows that it would delete the names of several key companies and individuals from the sanctions list. Among the dropped names is that of the powerful Iranian bank Sepah, as well as several defense industry firms run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

It also calls a 90-day 'time out', in which sanctions would be suspended if Iran halted uranium enrichment.

South Africa's Ambassador Kumalo defended the 90-day "time out' Monday, saying it was originally a proposal made by Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.

"As we read the resolution we want to make sure that the IAEA has a role to play," said Ambassador Kumalo. "You know, this 90-day [break] is not a South African invention, this was in fact suggested by Mr. ElBaradei himself."

Representatives of permanent Security Council members reacted coolly to the South African proposal. Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry called them "unhelpful', and the French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere suggested they were counter to the goal of gradually increasing pressure on Tehran.

"I've seen amendments from South Africa," said Jean-Marc de La Sabliere. "I don't think these amendments are consistent with the approach the Security Council is following."

Opposition from the veto-wielding permanent members signals almost certain rejection of the South African proposals. But it could delay passage of the sanctions measure, especially since South Africa holds the Council presidency for March.

Ambassador Kumalo suggested Monday that the proposed amendments were intended mainly as a protest on behalf of the 10 elected members of the Council, who have expressed irritation at having been left out of the big power negotiations.

"If we are asking for things deleted, that's exactly what we do with any resolution that comes here," he said. "We always have the right to suggest, 'can you change this word. Can you do that? Why do you guys want to treat this resolution as if it's written by god or has the wisdom of god in it?' It's a regular resolution. We are doing what, as elected members of the Security Council, we are supposed to do."

No date is set for a vote on the resolution, but the Security Council will hold discussions on the text Tuesday and Wednesday. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has already notified the Council that he is planning to be in the Council chambers on the day of the vote, and will exercise his right to speak.