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New sanctions for Iran, with not a lot of hope of stopping its nuke program

VIENNA — Washington calls the latest U.N. sanctions on Iran a diplomatic victory, a show of unity by the world's big powers and a powerful way to prevent the country from making nuclear weapons.

Iran says the sanctions are an unfair attempt to keep it from developing a peaceful civilian energy program.

Whatever Iran's ultimate goal, it is clear that, like three previous sets of sanctions, the new measures are unlikely to crimp a nearly mature nuclear program that can be turned to both peaceful purposes and making atomic weapons.

The new sanctions authorize countries to inspect cargo to and from Iran; strengthen an arms embargo by banning transfers of more types of conventional arms and missiles; expand restrictions on Iran's access to nuclear technology; add more institutions to a financial sanctions watch list; and urge "vigilance" in doing business with any organization linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

President Barack Obama said the sanctions send "an unmistakable message about the international community's commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons."

Diplomats from Brazil and Turkey, which negotiated a deal with Iran last month to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for access to fuel for a medical reactor, criticized the sanctions as derailing a fresh chance for diplomacy. Those nations were the only two to vote against the sanctions; Lebanon abstained.

Because many aspects of a civilian nuclear program can also serve military purposes, Iran already has most of what it would need to make such arms. And the cost of getting China and Russia to approve the new sanctions was the removal of provisions that would have really hurt Iran, such as an embargo on Iranian oil or a ban on gasoline sales.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, in its newest tally last week said Iran was now running nearly 4,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges and had amassed nearly 2.5 tons of low-enriched uranium that can be used for fuel, once Iran's first reactor goes on line, which is planned for some time this year.

That's also enough for two nuclear bombs if enriched to weapons-grade levels. Iran recently began enriching to higher levels for what it says will be research reactor fuel.

The process is turning out less than weapons-grade uranium. If Iran should decide to pursue a weapon, however, it would take less work to turn such higher-enriched feedstock into fissile warhead material.

It will be hard to keep Iran from obtaining more nuclear technology. Many of the companies and entities mentioned in the new sanctions list have already been subject to sanctions, and Iran has found ways in the past to circumvent the penalties or create cover companies to procure items on its behalf.

"Sanctions won't stop Iran from continuing its nuclear, missile and space program. It may create some obstacles, but Iran can find ways to go around it," said Abbas Pazooki, an Iranian commentator.

Studies by the U.S. government have cast doubt on the efficacy of sanctions, and the World Trade Organization's website indicates that major buyers of Iranian exports include Japan, the European Union, China and India.

"Not too shabby for an alleged pariah state," said Steven E. Miller, director of the International Security Program at Harvard University. "It does sort of raise the question of who exactly we are persuading with our relentless campaign to isolate Iran.

"I think that by default we end up with sanctions because we don't know what else to do."

Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.

New sanctions for Iran, with not a lot of hope of stopping its nuke program 06/09/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 9, 2010 10:33pm]
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