UNITED NATIONS- The United States, France and other Western powers are preparing a plan for a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program and hope to persuade Russia and China to back it.
Western diplomats say they hope the six powers leading negotiations on the Iran issue -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia -- can agree soon on a draft sanctions resolution to submit to the full Security Council.
The U.N. Security Council has already imposed three rounds of asset freezes, travel bans and a ban on business with firms and individuals linked to Tehran's nuclear and missile programs and designated by the council's Iran sanctions committee.
Western powers fear Iran, a major oil and gas producer, is covertly developing nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its atomic ambitions are peaceful and limited to generating electricity.
Following are possible scenarios for the outcome of the negotiations on a fourth sanctions resolution, which diplomats hope will be adopted next month.
This is highly unlikely. In negotiations with the other three Western powers, France had been pushing for sanctions that would have targeted Iran's energy sector, arguing that proceeds from Tehran's oil and gas sales are financing the nuclear and missile industries.
French officials also proposed banning the sale to Iran of items that could be used to repress the Iranian people, like tear gas. Their U.S., British and German counterparts argued against it because Russia and China would never accept it.
Israel has also pushed for crippling sanctions, ostensibly like the embargoes the Security Council has previously imposed on countries like Iraq and Libya. But Russia and China have made clear they would be ready to veto a crippling U.N. embargo that would harm the Iranian people.
MODERATELY TOUGH SANCTIONS
This is possible, though it will not be easy to convince Russia and China, Western diplomats say. A moderately tough resolution in line with U.S.-European proposals that U.S. officials have recently circulated among the six, they say, would avoid sanctioning Iran's oil and gas industries but could allow for a ban on new investments in its energy sector.
It might ban all contact with Iran's central bank and several other large Iranian financial institutions, making it virtually impossible for Iran to raise money on global debt markets, as already wary foreign investors would steer clear of Iranian government bonds.
It could also make it illegal for insurance and reinsurance firms to provide coverage for shipments to or from Iran and ban several shipping firms that previous resolutions have warned about.
It could also include a new focus on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), adding the names of key individual and IRGC-controlled firms to the U.N. blacklist.
The key hurdle is tied to Russia's stated opposition to blacklisting any more Iranian banks and energy-hungry China's reluctance to accept a ban on new investments in Iran's oil and gas industries. Russia's initial reaction to the new U.S. draft was negative, while China has not made its position known.
MODEST (WEAK) SANCTIONS
This is the most likely move. A senior Western diplomat based in New York said a few individuals and firms directly linked to Iran's missile and nuclear programs would be added to the U.N. blacklist and the impact will be largely symbolic.
It could include a new focus on the IRGC, which Western diplomats say effectively runs Iran's nuclear program, but probably would exclude a ban on new investments in Iran's energy sector.
U.N. member states might be warned to be wary of investing in, and doing business with, Iran. Such warnings would not be legally binding.
Russia, Western diplomats say, would probably accept such a resolution, though Beijing has indicated that it would have problems with even a modest tightening of existing sanctions against Iran, which is a key energy supplier for China.
The European Union and its Western allies could follow up by imposing their own tougher unilateral sanctions.
EXPECTED VOTING RESULTS
Western diplomats on the council say that it is possible that only 11 of the 15 Security Council members will vote in favor of an Iran sanctions resolution. China, Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon have indicated they might not vote yes.
China is crucial. If Beijing were to vote against such a resolution, the measure would fail because it, like the United States, Britain, France and Russia, is a veto-wielding permanent council member.
But if Russia supported or abstained from the vote, a Chinese veto would be unlikely, Western diplomats say.
They say they would prefer a yes vote from China but might have to settle for an abstention. That would allow the measure to pass, but would send a message to Tehran that China opposed the sanctions and might not be eager to enforce them.
If China does not use its veto, Turkey, Lebanon and Brazil could not on their own defeat the measure. Council resolutions need nine yes votes in the absence of a veto to pass.
Western powers are lobbying Turkey, Lebanon and Brazil to get their support. If both China and Russia decided to vote yes, Western diplomats said it would be easier to get Brazil's and Turkey's support, but not Lebanon's.
Russia and China voted in favour of the first three sanctions resolutions. The first two were approved unanimously in 2006 and 2007. The third was adopted in 2008 with 14 yes votes and an abstention from non-permanent member Indonesia.