Major Western powers suspect that, despite Tehran's claims to the contrary, Iran is aspiring to develop nuclear weapons. The five permanent members of the Security Council (P-5), plus Germany, have been holding talks behind closed doors in New York.
The P-5 plus Germany are ready to broaden their discussions to include the full Security Council after reportedly agreeing any new sanctions on Iran must be "incremental."
That "incremental" approach is an apparent concession on the part of the United States and Britain to China and Russia -- two countries with strong commercial ties to Iran.
Moving To The Final Stage
French UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere expressed optimism on March 12 that the discussions could be entering their final stage -- even as he refused to detail anything of what the new sanctions might look like.
"We have decided not to go into specifics and you have to understand that the best thing we can do to reach an agreement is to keep our negotiations confidential," he said. "But I think we are now very close. I would say that this is the best meeting we had since the beginning of these negotiations. I hope that tomorrow morning [March 13] we will be able to inform other members of the council that, yes, we are now very close, we have made a lot of progress."
The 10 rotating members of the Security Council have not been involved so far in the confidential discussions on Iran. But starting today they will be consulted on developments, though their role will remain largely that of observers.
Other key players in the meetings of the P-5 plus Germany presented a similar upbeat message.
"Our expectation now is that the fruits of our discussion will be sorted out by our experts this evening, sent back to our capitals, and we'll meet again tomorrow morning to see how we take it forward," British UN Ambassadro Emyr Jones Parry said on March 12. "The text as it's emerging, is going to be quite substantial. And in the course of tomorrow, I think, we'll be closer to having one whole resolution."
Acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the intent of the new resolution will not be to punish Iran but to bring Tehran back to negotiations.
"In the end -- that is what we want," Wolff told journalists. "It's not punishing, it's not harming Iran, but it's getting them back on track and to help them to find a way out of this self-imposed isolation."
Outline Of The Proposals
During the discussions over the past days, many proposals for what to put into the new resolution have been discussed. And many differences among the parties have emerged that make it very hard for observers to predict just what the final draft will include.
One contentious issue has been the reported U.S. proposal to freeze the assets of companies controlled by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. These companies oversee vital Iranian interests, including oil and natural-gas installations and the nation's missile arsenal.
Russia objects to mentioning the Revolutionary Guards because that would amount to censuring the entire institution, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin says.
China's UN ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters on March 12 that Beijing is willing to see a conventional-arms export embargo slapped on Iran. But Beijing is not willing to back a ban that would stop Iran from importing arms from producer states like China itself.
Other measures under discussion have included stopping taxpayer-funded credits for companies that trade with Iran. But there, Germany has argued that some measures could hurt its own small companies that do business with Tehran.
So, it is still anybody's guess just what new sanctions Iran will face as the UN now tries to tighten the first round of sanctions it slapped on Iran in late December.
The December 23 resolution imposed trade sanctions on sensitive nuclear materials and technology and froze assets of key Iranian individuals, groups, and businesses.
Meanwhile, there are reports Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad wants to address the Security Council in an effort to defuse the tensions around Iran's nuclear activities. Iranian state television said Ahmadinejad wants to put forth Tehran's argument that its nuclear program is peaceful.