Iran resolution hits snag at U.N.: French envoy

( Reuter )- Several non-permanent U.N. Security Council members are holding up agreement on a new sanctions resolution against Iran over its nuclear program, said France's envoy to the United States on Friday.

Ministers from the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain -- as well as Germany agreed on the draft text of a new resolution last week in Berlin.

That draft, a watered down version of what Washington wanted because of resistance by China and Russia, has now been circulated to the entire 15-member Security Council in New York before going to a vote.

"This is not easy. We are still having some difficulties with some of the (U.N. Security Council) members but we are trying to reach an agreement on the new resolution," said France's Ambassador to the United States, Pierre Vimont .

"This may take some time," he added at a conference on Iran hosted by the Middle East Institute, a Washington think-tank. "There is more work to be done."

Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian energy use while the West suspects it is trying to build an atom bomb.

The new resolution calls for extended freezing of assets and travel bans on specific Iranian officials as well as some new elements, but falls far short of the kind of tough measures Washington wanted imposed on Iranian banks.

Vimont did not mention countries by name but nonpermanent Council member South Africa has voiced discomfort over moving ahead fast on the resolution and Libya, Indonesia and Vietnam are also seen as spoilers.

The United States had hoped the third sanctions resolution against Iran would have been passed by the end of last year at the latest and is now pushing for it to go through at least by the time of parliamentary elections in Iran in mid-March.

But Vimont said several Security Council members wanted to give the U.N.'s atomic watchdog agency more time to negotiate with Iran before taking further punitive measures.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to deliver a report at the end of February or early March after talks with Iran over its nuclear work, which has prompted calls for the Council to hold off on the resolution.

International support for further sanctions has also been dampened by a U.S. intelligence estimate last December which concluded Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

Vimont said two previous sanctions resolutions were having some impact, "but they are biting slowly."

The French envoy stressed that the international community should stick to its current sanctions strategy while at the same time offering Iran incentives such as civilian nuclear cooperation and political dialogue.

He said Iran was seeking a more influential role in the region and in the international community overall and major powers should make it clear that could happen as long as Tehran was willing to give up its sensitive nuclear work.

He said there was a debate among both moderates and radicals in Tehran over whether to open up to the United States and others. In 2006, Washington offered to reopen diplomatic contact with Tehran if it gave up uranium enrichment.

"I suppose that even the moderates must have hesitation about starting this kind of dialogue as they wonder what will be the implication of such a dialogue on their regime and on the stability of this regime," said Vimont .

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