U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday hailed a U.N. draft plan to impose tougher sanctions on Iran and again called on the country to live up to its international obligations.
A draft U.N. plan circulated on Tuesday proposed a modest expansion of sanctions on Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment. The resolution, which follows months of negotiations, targets Iranian banks and calls for inspections of vessels suspected of carrying cargo related to Iran's nuclear or missile programs.
Speaking in a joint press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Obama said the two agreed "on the need for Iran to uphold its international obligations or face increased sanctions and pressure, including UN sanctions."
"And I'm pleased that we've reached an agreement with our P5-plus-1 partners on a strong resolution that we now have shared with our Security Council partners," Obama added.
Earlier Wednesday, Iran's atomic chief Ali-Akbar Salehi was quoted by the news network Khabar as saying that Tehran was unimpressed by planned new UN Security Council sanctions over its nuclear program, saying it would remain patient.
"We will wait as, like before, they (the world powers) will not gain anything with a new resolution and there are definitely some wise people among them who will prevent this (renewed sanctions)."
"The issue of sanctions has lost its color and is a futile effort, just discrediting internationally acknowledged regulations," Salehi said after a cabinet session in Tehran.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that the UN Security Council, including Iran allies China and Russia, had reached an agreement "on a strong draft" resolution on sanctions against Iran.
The draft resolution calls for expanding punitive measures against Iran, its banking and other industries for refusing to halt sensitive nuclear activities.
The 10-page draft resolution, which was agreed by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, also calls for the establishment of an international inspection regime for vessels suspected of containing cargo related to Iran's nuclear or missile programs.
The resolution, which will apparently be voted on in June, will allow inspection of all financial interactions with Iranian banks, as well as banning the opening of Iranian bank branches overseas.
Meanwhile, Brazil refuses to discuss the council's sanctions resolution against Iran due to a new nuclear fuel deal with Tehran that it helped broker, Brazil's U.N. envoy said.
"Brazil is not engaging in any discussion on a draft at this point because we feel that there is a new situation," Brazilian Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti told reporters on the sidelines of a Security Council meeting. "There was an agreement yesterday which is a very important one."
The UN Security Council convened late Tuesday to discuss the new sanctions resolution in a closed-door session .
This was the first discussion of Security Council regarding Iran's nuclear program, after months of deliberations among the six world powers - the five permanent Security Council members and Germany.
On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki expressed surprise when asked about the draft sanctions resolution.
When asked by a Reuters reporter what Iran's reaction would be to the resolution, Mottaki said in English: "Are you sure?"
After an assurance that major powers had agreed the draft, Mottaki said: "Don't take it serious". He then walked away.
Mottaki was attending a meeting in the Tajik capital Dushanbe of foreign ministers from the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
"We have reached agreement on a strong draft with the cooperation of Russia and China," Clinton said of talks among the five permanent Security Council members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - as well as Germany.
"We plan to circulate the draft resolution to the entire Security Council today," Clinton added in a text released by the U.S. State Department of her comments before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The agreement appears something of a rebuff to a deal worked out by Brazil and Turkey, under which Iran would send some of its uranium abroad, reviving a fuel swap plan devised last year to try to keep Tehran's nuclear activities in check.
Iran agreed on Monday to send some of its uranium abroad, reviving a fuel swap plan drafted by the United Nations with the aim of keeping Tehran's nuclear activities in check.
But Tehran made clear it did not intend to suspend domestic uranium enrichment that Western governments have said appears aimed at giving it the means to make nuclear weapons.
Western powers have said the fuel swap offer promoted by Brazil and Turkey will not be enough to ease their worries about Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened top advisers on Tuesday to assess the deal.
Clinton said the deal did not commit Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and could lead to months of negotiations before Iran turned over any of its low enriched uranium. She suggested that it was a ploy to stave off sanctions.
"We don't believe it was any accident that Iran agreed to this declaration as we were preparing to move forward in New York," Clinton said, referring to moves toward a sanctions resolution.
"The fact that we had Russia on board, we had China on board, and that we were moving early this week, namely today, to share the text of that resolution, put pressure on Iran which they were trying to somehow dissipate," she added.
Following Clinton's statements on Tuesday, a White House spokesman said that the United States will seek to apply sanctions pressure on Iran until it lives up to its nuclear obligations.
"We're going to continue to apply pressure in every way we can ... We're going to continue until Iran lives up to its international obligations," White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters while traveling with Obama in Ohio.
Earlier on Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the nuclear fuel swap with Iran was a "positive step" and it was waiting for Tehran to provide full written details, as China and Lebanon also voiced their support for the new deal.
"France will examine this with the Group of Six [international powers] and is ready to discuss without preconceptions all its implications for the whole of the Iran dossier," Sarkozy said in a statement during a visit to Spain.
Also on Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said he was encouraged by the new deal with Iran. His reaction suggested Beijing and Western powers may part ways on how much weight to give Iran's offer.
"China has noted the relevant reports and expresses its welcome and appreciation for the diplomatic efforts all parties have made to positively seek an appropriate solution to the Iranian nuclear issue," Yang said, according to the Foreign Ministry website (www.fmprc.gov.cn).
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said his government hoped the nuclear fuel swap agreement "will benefit the process of peacefully resolving the Iran nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiations".
Neither Yang nor Ma said directly whether China believes the Western powers should now rethink their sanctions demands. Both stressed Beijing prefers a negotiated solution to the dispute.
Also Tuesday, Lebanese president Michel Suleiman welcomed a deal on Iran's nuclear program, describing it as a first step towards resolving the issue diplomatically.
Suleiman, in a statement issued by his press office, said: "Lebanon has always called for a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear program."
Suleiman also voiced hope that the international community would approve the deal, which, he added, "would ease regional and international tension."
But commentators continued to say that U.S. reaction to the deal must be gauged before its usefulness can be judged.
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