By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
Published: June 9, 2010
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations Security Council leveled its fourth round of sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program on Wednesday, but the measures did little to overcome widespread doubts that they — or even the additional steps pledged by American and European officials — would accomplish the Council’s longstanding goal: halting Iran’s production of nuclear fuel.
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The new resolution, hailed by President Obama as delivering “the toughest sanctions ever faced by the Iranian government,” took months to negotiate and major concessions by American officials, but still failed to carry the symbolic weight of a unanimous decision. Twelve of the 15 nations on the Council voted for the measure, while Turkey and Brazil voted against it and Lebanon abstained.
The United States and Europe acknowledged before negotiations started that they would not get the tough sanctions they were hoping for, promising to enact harsher measures on their own once they had the imprimatur of the United Nations. Congress is expected to pass a package of unilateral sanctions against Iran, and European leaders will begin discussing possible measures at a summit meeting next week.
“We would want to have a tough translation of the resolution,” said Gérard Araud, the French envoy to the United Nations.
But Iran has defied repeated demands from the Security Council to stop enriching nuclear fuel, and immediately vowed to disregard the new sanctions as well. Despite earlier resolutions, Iran has built new, sometimes secret, centrifuge plants needed to enrich uranium — and has enriched it to higher levels of purity.
The main thrust of the sanctions is against military purchases, trade and financial transactions carried out by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which controls the nuclear program and has taken a more central role in running the country and the economy. Though Iran insists that its efforts are strictly for peaceful purposes, its actions have raised suspicions in the West. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that Iran’s leaders were actively weighing whether to develop a nuclear weapon.
“Whether or not there should be a move toward a breakout capacity or toward weapons, there is a lot of debate within the leadership,” Mrs. Clinton said, without providing evidence.
Diplomats from Brazil and Turkey, which negotiated a deal with Iran last month to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for access to fuel for a medical reactor, criticized the sanctions as derailing a fresh chance for diplomacy.
“We do not see sanctions as an effective instrument in this case,” said Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Brazil’s representative to the United Nations.
The five permanent members of the Security Council issued a separate statement emphasizing that diplomacy remained an important option, and Mr. Obama, in a lengthy statement at the White House, left the door open to negotiations.
“This day was not inevitable,” he said. “We made clear from the beginning of my administration that the United States was prepared to pursue diplomatic solutions,” arguing that the Iranian leadership had refused to engage.
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, offered few indications of being swayed by the current resolution, saying during a visit to Tajikistan that sanctions are “annoying flies, like a used tissue.”
Iran’s envoy to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, also enumerated a long list of grievances over what he called outside interference in Iranian affairs, vowing before the Security Council that Iran would “never bow.”
In addition to concentrating on activity by the Revolutionary Guards, the sanctions tighten measures previously taken against 40 individuals, putting them under a travel ban and asset freeze, but the resolution adds just one name to the list — Javad Rahiqi, 56, the head of the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center.
The sanctions require countries to inspect ships or planes headed to or from Iran if they suspect banned cargo is aboard, but there is no authorization to board ships by force at sea. Iran has also proved itself adept at obscuring its ownership of cargo vessels.
Another aspect of the sanctions bars all countries from allowing Iran to invest in their nuclear enrichment plants, uranium mines and other nuclear-related technology, and sets up a new committee to monitor enforcement.
The United States had sought broader measures against Iran’s banks, insurance industry and other trade, but China and Russia were adamant that the sanctions not affect Iran’s day-to-day economy. Washington and Beijing were wrangling down to the last day over which banks to include on the list, diplomats said, and in the end only one appeared on the list of 40 new companies to be blacklisted.
The Chinese ambassador, Li Baodong, said his country’s conditions on the sanctions were that they not harm the world economic recovery and not affect the Iranian people or normal trade.
“With time, we got a resolution that we felt was very meaningful and credible and significant,” said Susan E. Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations. “But had we wanted a low-ball, low-impact resolution, we could have had that in a very short period of time.”
In the end, both Iran’s energy sector and its central bank were mentioned with somewhat tortured wording in the opening paragraphs. But administration officials said that buried in the resolution were specific phrases — they called them "hooks” — that would provide a legal basis for European and other nations to impose tougher, broader sanctions than many Security Council members were willing to adopt.
The new sanctions also ban selling Iran heavy weapons, specifically battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile systems.
“Nobody is suggesting that these sanctions are not going to have an impact,” said Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The question is whether they will put sufficient pressure on Iran to come back to the negotiating table in a more earnest and a more compromising mood.”
Mr. Takeyh questioned whether measures like the weapons ban could have the unintended consequence of driving Iran toward developing a nuclear weapon because it could not get other arms.
On the economic front, studies by the United States government have cast doubt on the efficacy of sanctions, and the World Trade Organization’s Web site indicates that major buyers of Iranian exports include Japan, the European Union, China and India.
“Not too shabby for an alleged pariah state,” said Steven E. Miller, the director of the International Security Program at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. “It does sort of raise the question of who exactly we are persuading with our relentless campaign to isolate Iran.”
Restricting a few dozen additional companies “would seem like a thin reed on which to base a policy,” Mr. Miller added. “I think that by default we end up with sanctions because we don’t know what else to do.”