The United States and its allies called for a U.N. vote on imposing new sanctions on Iran's suspect nuclear program, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said those would be followed by even stricter unilateral penalties by Washington and others.
The Associated Press reports that the international sanctions, up for a vote before the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday morning, would be tougher than previous penalties but still far short of crippling economic punishments or an oil embargo. Gates, speaking in London, predicted passage and said the U.S. and some of its European allies are considering additional tougher measures.
"The strategy here is a combination of diplomacy and pressure to persuade the Iranians that they are headed in the wrong direction in terms of their own security, that they will undermine their security by pursuit of nuclear weapons, not enhance it," Gates said.
Estimate of Iran's nuclear progress vary, but most experts believe the nation is at least two years away from being able to build a workable weapon. Iran denies it is seeking a bomb.
The final version of the U.N. resolution would ban Iran from pursuing "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons," bar Iranian investment in activities such as uranium mining, and prohibit Iran from buying several categories of heavy weapons including attack helicopters and missiles.
The resolution, if adopted, would impose the fourth round of sanctions against Iran for refusing to suspend its enrichment program and join talks with the five permanent council nations and Germany. The six countries have been trying for several years to get Tehran into serious negotiations about its nuclear program. After weeks of closed-door negotiations, the U.S., Britain and France won crucial support from Russia and China for new sanctions, but they have faced a tough campaign to get backing from the rest of the Security Council.
Iran insists its nuclear program is purely peaceful, aimed at producing nuclear energy, but the United States and its Western allies believe Tehran's real goal is to produce atomic weapons.
The BBC reports that the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said on Tuesday in Istanbul that if the US did not change its position "the first ones to lose would be President Obama and the people of the United States".
Ahmadinejad said approving the sanctions would close the door to resolving the controversy over Iran's nuclear programme through negotiations.
"I have said that if the American government and its allies think that they can raise a baton called a resolution and then sit and talk to us, they are strongly mistaken," he said.
But Gates remained relatively optimistic. "I do not think we have lost the opportunity to stop the Iranians from having a nuclear weapon," he said. "I think the clock is ticking."