Europeans circulate final Iran draft

(AP) - European nations late Friday circulated a new version of a U.N. resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program a final effort to win Russian support before the Security Council votes Saturday.

"This is it," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones said after presenting the final draft to council members at a closed meeting, reports Trend.

Jones Parry said the changes did not involve any major concessions and "increase the chances of agreement tomorrow." Council diplomats said they cleared up ambiguities in the text and eliminated mention of some exemptions to the sanctions.

"Actually, this is a very nice step forward," Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia's U.N. Mission, told reporters after the meeting.

But council members said they needed to send the new text to their governments to study before voting Saturday morning. It wasn't clear whether there would be unanimous support, with the votes of Russia, China and Qatar still in question.

"I think that in a way they tried to build consensus," China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said, "but we will have to see by tomorrow morning whether consensus is there."

Britain, France and Germany, the co-sponsors of the resolution, had been pressing for a vote Friday. The vote Saturday will culminate two months of tough negotiations on a resolution to pressure Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and return to talks on its nuclear program.

The final draft would order all countries to ban the supply of specified materials and technology that could contribute to Iran's nuclear and missile programs. It would also impose an asset freeze on key companies and individuals in the country's nuclear and missile programs named on a U.N. list.

Iran insists its nuclear program is aimed solely at the peaceful production of nuclear energy, but the Americans and Europeans suspect Tehran's ultimate goal is the production of nuclear weapons.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated Tuesday that possible Security Council sanctions would not stop Iran from pursuing uranium enrichment, a technology that can produce nuclear fuel for civilian purposes or for a nuclear bomb.

Before the final text was circulated, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin pressed for amendments to ensure that Moscow could conduct legitimate nuclear activities in Iran.

Russia is building Iran's first atomic power plant at Bushehr, which is expected to go on line in late 2007. A reference to Bushehr in the original draft was removed earlier as Russia demanded.

Churkin complained that some organizations suspected of conducting proliferation-sensitive activities had been included on the list subject to financial sanctions "without even proving that is the case, and therefore you cannot do any business with that institution and that can raise all sorts of issues."

"That was not the intention of that resolution," he said.

Russia and China, which both have strong commercial ties to Tehran, have pressed for a step-by-step approach to sanctions. By contrast, the United States has pushed for very tough sanctions, with Britain and France taking a slightly softer view.

Whether the changes in the new draft go far enough remains to be seen.

The Europeans dropped two paragraphs specifying exemptions from financial sanctions. The final draft requires all countries to freeze the assets of those on the list now and those added by a new Security Council committee that will monitor sanctions against Iran but it eliminated a requirement that the assets be frozen "immediately." The final text also dropped a requirement that the sanctions committee approve the unfreezing of funds to make payments to individuals or companies on the U.N. list for prior contracts.

Acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the new version was "a good resolution." But he said that Washington would examine it before Saturday's vote.

The six countries trying to curb Iran's nuclear program Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the United States offered Tehran a package of economic incentives and political rewards in June if it agreed to consider a long-term moratorium on enrichment and committed itself to a freeze on uranium enrichment before talks on its nuclear program.

With Iran refusing to comply with an Aug. 31 council deadline to stop enrichment, Britain and France circulated a draft sanctions resolution in late October, which has since been revised several times.

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