Experts have cautioned a congressional panel about potential drawbacks from any U.N. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said on Capitol Hill that a vote on an Iran resolution in the U.N. Security on Iran will be a key test for Russia and China and their willingness to cooperate with efforts to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Ambassador Bolton says the United States would like to see a unanimous decision from the Security Council on Iran.
Although that is widely seen as unlikely, despite U.S. efforts to persuade Moscow and Beijing, he says Russian and Chinese abstentions would not stop the progress of a sanctions resolution.
"It's not impossible that we would proceed without them, and if they abstain then that resolution would go into effect, as would subsequent sanctions resolutions if we get to them," said John Bolton.
Ambassador Bolton faced tough questions from House lawmakers at the hearing examining the viability of United Nations sanctions.
Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen is concerned U.S. efforts to gather support may suffer from fallout from the way the Bush administration handled the Iraq issue, and suspicion in foreign capitals that Washington would use a resolution to justify a future military strike.
"The concern at the U.N. that resolutions adopted may at some point be used by the United States or another country as a point for unilateral military action," said Chris Van Hollen.
Experts appearing with Ambassador Bolton at Tuesday's House subcommittee hearing cautioned against hasty action.
Carne Ross, a former British diplomat, urges dialogue and more patience with Tehran, saying sanctions may not succeed without broad political support.
"Ramping things up at this rather accelerated rate that the U.S. is doing, pushing things through to the Security Council in a very determined and aggressive and time-limited fashion is not the way to win political support," said Carne Ross.
At the same time, Ross adds military options cannot not be ruled out, and Iran could help ease tensions by allowing international inspectors full access to its nuclear facilities.
Republican Congressman Christopher Shays is not optimistic China and Russia will support U.N. sanctions.
"I just don't have any faith that Europe's heart or Russia's heart or China's heart is in having sanctions," said Christopher Shays. "I think it is a message to Iran [that sanctions are not] going to happen so they don't need to fear them, and then what I fear is the only thing left on the table is [the] military option."
If European countries want to head off such a scenario, Shays says they must recognize there is no way around sanctions.
George Lopez, professor at the Joan Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, says U.N. members should carefully consider potential outcomes of prospective sanctions, as well as drawbacks, including possibly giving more rhetorical ammunition to Iran's leadership.
"We saw this with [former Serbian leader] Slobodan Milosevic," said George Lopez. "We saw this with [former Liberian president] Charles Taylor. There is no reason knowing what we know now to reinvent the same scenario with a quite erratic Iranian leader. And while we don't have responsibility for that Iranian leader, we do have a responsibility for the outcomes of [policies] which will only further aggravate a situation rather than accomplish our goals."
Tuesday's hearing came as U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns told reporters in Paris the Security Council is preparing a stiff international message for Iran on its nuclear program.
It also coincided with the latest threatening statements from Iran, including one by a Revolutionary Guard leader saying Iran would retaliate first against Israel in the event of any attack.