The US laid out a step-by-step plan on Wednesday to apply pressure on Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons programme, including the use of targeted sanctions. The plan would involve the United Nations and a new coalition of allies.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council met in New York to tackle the first step. This would be the wording of a presidential statement urging Iran to cease its uranium enrichment activities, and call on Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to report back, possibly within two weeks.

In Washington, Nicholas Burns, under-secretary of state, told a congressional committee that the US wanted the statement – which would not have the force of law – to “condemn” Iran. Next, he said, the US would move to a binding chapter seven resolution designed to “isolate” the Islamic regime and “hopefully influence its behaviour”.

Noting that the US already has unilateral sanctions against Iran, Mr Burns went on: “But it’s going to be incumbent upon our allies around the world, and interested countries, to show that they are willing to act, should the words and resolutions of the United Nations not suffice.”

A “number of countries” were already exploring possible targeted sanctions aimed at the regime and its nuclear and missile programmes, not the Iranian people, he said in the clearest exposition to date of what the US hopes to achieve, having finally managed to refer Iran to the UN after more than two years of diplomacy.

Analysts in Washington said Mr Burns’ remarks reflected a broad expectation in the Bush administration that it would not be able to persuade Russia and China on the security council to back meaningful sanctions, and that the US would look to forming an ad hoc alliance of allies, as it had with the “coalition of the willing” for Iraq.

France might be persuaded to join that coalition, along with east European allies and Japan and Australia, but Germany was in doubt, the analysts said.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, appeared to rule out the possibility of UN sanctions. Any solution, he said, should “not endanger the ability of the IAEA to continue its work in Iran, while making sure there is no danger for the non-proliferation regime.”

“I don’t think sanctions as a means to solve a crisis have ever achieved a goal in the recent history,” he said, adding that there was “no military solution”.

European Union diplomats are also wary of imposing sanctions on Tehran, arguing that the most significant such step – oil sanctions – would be unthinkable at a time of high energy prices.

They add that taking the issue to the Security Council does not close off the possibility of reaching an agreement in coming weeks, a hope echoed yesterday by Mr ElBaradei.

Get alerts on United Nations when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article