U.S. sees sanctions by May; Iran lobbies against West
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday he expects new sanctions on Iran by May as Tehran began lobbying the U.N. Security Council to oppose new steps against the Islamic Republic over its atomic plans.
Biden issued the latest U.S. warning to Iran, locked in a standoff with the West over a nuclear program Tehran insists is entirely peaceful, in an appearance on ABC television's "The View" talk show.
"Everyone from the Israeli prime minister straight through to the British prime minister to the president of Russia, everyone agrees the next step we should take is the U.N. sanction route," Biden said.
"I believe you will see a sanction regime coming out by the end of this month, beginning of next month," he said. Asked if Israel might attack Iran's nuclear facilities without consulting Washington, Biden said Israel had agreed to wait and see what the impact of new U.N. sanctions would be.
As closed-door negotiations continue on a draft resolution for the U.N. Security Council, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki heads to Vienna and other capitals to lobby council members to oppose any new U.N. sanctions.
If negotiations on a fourth round of U.N. punitive measures against Tehran run past May, the U.S. House of Representatives has declared Congress should finalise legislation to impose new unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran by the end of next month -- whether or not the Security Council has acted.
The 403-11 vote signalled growing impatience on Capitol Hill with efforts by U.S. President Barack Obama's administration and its allies to get a fourth round of U.N. sanctions to pressure Iran to curb a nuclear program the West fears is aimed at making a bomb.
Diplomats from the five permanent Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- and Germany are meeting nearly every day in New York to revise a U.S.-drafted sanctions proposal that Moscow and Beijing would like to see watered down, Western diplomats say.
The proposed U.S. congressional measures are much tougher than those included in the U.N. draft proposal, agreed upon with Britain, France and Germany over a month ago before Washington passed it on to Russia and China for comment.
U.N. SANCTIONS TALKS COULD DRAG ON
The majority of U.S. lawmakers from both political parties are ready now to block Iran's vital gasoline imports by imposing sanctions on its gasoline suppliers, a tough measure also favoured by Israel. Both the House and the Senate passed legislation months ago to do this.
The U.S. draft for the 15-nation Security Council proposes some new curbs on Iranian banking, a full arms embargo, tougher measures against Iranian shipping, moves against members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and firms they control and a ban on new investments in Iran's energy sector.
But the U.N. draft does not seek to block imports or exports of oil or gas products to or from Iran -- measures that Russia and China have made clear they could not support.
Western diplomats familiar with the U.N. talks say the six powers are far from agreement on a draft to present to the full council and expect negotiations to drag on until June.
Diplomats said China proposed cutting some of the measures from the U.S. draft. Both Russia and energy-hungry China have close trade ties with Iran and fought hard to dilute three previous rounds of U.N. sanctions before voting for them.
The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, told Reuters in Tehran that Foreign Minister Mottaki would soon "meet and discuss with representatives of (council) member countries" the sanctions issue. Diplomats said Tehran was launching a lobbying campaign to avoid new sanctions.
Mottaki's first stop will be Austria, which is on the council until the end of this year and also the seat of the U.N. nuclear watchdog. He is expected to meet with senior Austrian officials on Sunday, as well as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano.
Mottaki met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu earlier this week in Tehran. Davutoglu told reporters his country, which is also on the Security Council and has made clear it would have trouble supporting new sanctions on Iran, was ready to help resolve Tehran's standoff with the West.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in Harare for talks with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, a visit Mugabe's opponents condemned as a meeting of despots.
Zimbabwean state media said Ahmadinejad's visit was part of a drive to boost ties between nations at odds with the West.
The U.S. unilateral measures under discussion in Congress could make life difficult for countries trading with Iran.
A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 41 foreign firms had commercial activity in Iran's oil, natural gas and petrochemical sectors from 2005 to 2009.
Separately, Iran's Revolutionary Guards successfully deployed a new speed boat on Thursday that is capable of destroying enemy ships in war games in a waterway crucial for global oil supplies, Iranian media reported.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington, Louis Charbonneau in New York, Sylvia Westall in Vienna, Parisa Hafezi in Tehran, Marius Bosch in Harare; writing by Louis Charbonneau; editing by Todd Eastham)
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