NEW YORK - Senior United Nations officials told Haaretz that a Security Council resolution tightening the sanctions on Iran has become more likely, and that the resolution is probably going to be approved.
Observers in both New York and Washington estimate that China will think twice about using its veto on a resolution after Russia recently threw its support behind a move against Iran. A veto could expose Beijing as isolated and out of touch with its fellow Security Council members.
China could also abstain from voting and allow the decision to be made by a simple majority. However, the sources told Haaretz, the United States is still trying to obtain Chinese support for the sanctions.
Ahead of its push for international sanctions at the UN, the U.S. sought on Wednesday to ratchet up pressure on Iran by imposing its own sanctions on elements of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, which Western intelligence officials believe is spearheading Iran's nuclear program.
The Treasury Department said it was freezing the assets in U.S. jurisdictions of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Rostam Qasemi and four subsidiaries of a previously penalized construction firm he runs because of their alleged involvement in producing and spreading weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. officials said the measures were intended as a model for wider action at the UN.
"The United States is seeking to reach a consensus between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council on the sanctions issue," one of the sources said. "This would allow it to present the five superpowers as a united coalition, which would increase the impact of the sanctions."
According to estimates in Washington and New York, a first American draft for the new resolution will be circulated among Security Council members in early March at the latest, and the vote will take place at the end of the month.
"To be honest, nobody knows for certain at the moment what China is going to do," a senior official in New York told Haaretz. "But at the end of the day, China is sensitive about its position as a superpower, and will not be able to ignore the position of other superpowers, including Russia, who support tightening the sanctions. It's not going to go against them by undermining the resolution."
The New York Times on Wednesday quoted officials in the Obama administration who said the U.S. president has been applying the same persuasion tack with China he earlier successfully used with Russian president Medvedev. According to the daily, Obama has placed sanctions on Iran at the top of his priorities in recent contacts with Beijing.
Experts, however, warned that the same tactics that brought success with Russia may not work with China. A scheduled White House visit by the Dalai Lama has infuriated the Chinese, as did a recent arms deal between the United States and Taiwan.
The Americans had earlier planned to begin promoting the resolution in February. France, which supports a tough line on Iran, is this month's president of the Security Council.
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