Though slowed by foot-dragging from Russia and China, progress is still being made toward a third United Nations Security Council resolution with additional sanctions on Iran, a well-informed senior European official said on background today.
The official expects that the Security Council will probably be ready to act on a resolution in three or four weeks; for now, discussions on the future resolution are being handled at the level of political directors in foreign ministries. The U.S.-led drive to pressure Iran suffered a political setback with the publication of a National Intelligence Estimate last fall that concluded that Iran had halted a program to learn how to build a nuclear weapon back in 2003, despite increasingly tough rhetoric about Iranian intentions and the perceived threat from Iran by President Bush and other top U.S. officials.
On a practical level, Russia and China remain the primary obstacles to tougher sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to stop all of its work on uranium enrichment and its preparations for plutonium reprocessing, seen as a prelude to full-fledged negotiations.
"The Russians and the Chinese are hesitant [about more sanctions]," said the European official. China, in particular, appears to be protecting its growing economic interests in Iran, said the official. Those interests include oil purchases from Iran and arms sales to Iran. Still, the official said, Russia and China remain "very committed" to the principle of "suspension for suspension." That is a reference to the Security Council's agreed approach to secure an Iranian suspension of nuclear work in return for a suspension of U.N. sanctions.