Russia welcomes amended European sanctions, objects to travel ban

(AFP) - Russia hailed changes to a European draft resolution urging UN sanctions to force Iran to halt uranium enrichment but objected to a proposed travel ban on officials linked to Tehran's nuclear and missile programs, reports Trend.

"Clearly this draft does absorb the Russian philosophy of the direction and content of this resolution," Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin told reporters after a round of informal talks among ambassadors of six major powers.

Churkin hailed the sponsors' decision to drop all references in the draft to Iran's first nuclear power station, a one-billion-dollar facility which Russia is helping to build in Bushehr.

Meanwhile in Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday voiced support for the amended sanctions resolution and expressed optimism it would be quickly adopted by the full Security Council.

"It's a good resolution," Rice told AFP in an exclusive interview.

Rice said she was "optimistic" the text would pass soon, though she stopped short of predicting a final vote before the end of the year.

"It has to be voted soon. I think this has gone on long enough," she said.

But while several council diplomats also voiced guarded optimism that a vote could take place by Christmas, Churkin and his Chinese counterpart Wang Guangya objected to a proposed travel ban on a dozen Iranian officials directly involved in their country's nuclear and ballistic programs.

The 12 officials targeted include officials associated with the Natanz nuclear fuel processing facility and with the heavy-water reactor Iran is building in Arak, as well as Iran's Revolutionary Guards chief General Yahya Rahim Safavi.

The draft, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, would mandate a ban on trade with Iran on goods related to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and impose financial and travel restrictions on persons and entities involved.

France's UN envoy Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, who briefed the full 15-member council on the latest draft, made it clear that it provides for a suspension of the sanctions if Tehran in turns chooses to comply with UN demands that it freeze uranium enrichment.

Ambassadors of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- the council's five veto-wielding members -- plus Germany were to hold another informal session on the text Tuesday while the council's nuclear experts were also to pore over it, diplomats said.

"We are still uncertain as a matter of principle that this travel ban should be included," Churkin said. "We don't see how it is going to help achieve what we want."

Wang also cautioned that the travel ban "will be regarded (by the Iranians) as a humiliation."

"It's not humiliating at all," Germany's UN Ambassador Thomas Matussek retorted. "It is targeted specifically at persons directly related to proliferation activities."

And he insisted that the door for talks with Tehran remained open.

"We have gone the extra mile, as matter of fact several extra miles," he noted. "The aim is to encourage Iran to look again" at the comprehensive package of economic and security incentives offered by the six powers in exchange for a freeze on Iranian uranium enrichment.

Churkin also voiced reservations about the financial restrictions, stressing that they should "not impede activities that are perfectly legal."

"We want a vote before the end of the year, (preferably) before Christmas," said a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Asked whether a vote was likely by Christmas, the Russian envoy replied: "I don't know," and quipped: "In fact the Russian Christmas is the 7th of January."

Tehran has consistently rejected UN demands that it halt uranium enrichment, a process which can provide fuel for nuclear reactors but, also in highly refined form, material for the core of a nuclear bomb.

The West claims Iran is running a secret nuclear military program parallel to its civilian one, an allegation strongly denied by Tehran which says its nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful and aimed at producing electricity.

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