The United Nations Security Council was poised finally to agree sanctions on Iran after months of wrangling over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Western diplomats say the measures are crucial to creating a united front against Iran’s nuclear ambitions but concede that the steps finally agreed, which have been watered down from initial European Union proposals, are likely to have only a limited impact on Tehran. Iran, which insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, ignored an August 31 UN deadline to suspend uranium enrichment.

A binding resolution, which ambassadors had hoped to adopt today but the vote had slipped to the weekend, would ban countries from sending the most sensitive nuclear materials to Iran and establish limited controls over dual-use technology. It would also freeze the overseas finances of some organisations, companies and people, although Russian opposition led European drafters to step back from a travel ban. A committee would be told of trips by named officials instead.

Diplomats said some issues still needed to be ironed out but they were hopeful that unanimous agreement could be reached by this morning. If adopted, the UN resolution would increase the pressure on Tehran, although experts and diplomats acknowledge its impact may be limited.

Tehran admitted this week that the de facto financial sanctions, encouraged by the US, had started to hurt investment in the oil sector.

Iran dismissed the UN move. Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was quoted as saying: “The nature of this resolution is not capable of pressuring Iran and Iran will give an appropriate response to it.

“This behaviour will just create more problems. If they ratify the resolution Iran will . . .review its co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and others [in the] political, economic and cultural fields.”

Separately, US Central Command, which oversees military activities in the Middle East, has asked the Pentagon to send a second aircraft carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf in a move that has been interpreted as sending a strong message to Iran. Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary who is visiting Iraq, would have to approve the request.

Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

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