- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Iranian leaders yesterday vowed to defy a U.S.-led drive to halt the country’s nuclear program, warning that proposed United Nations sanctions will not work and promising to “strike the enemies” trying to pressure the country.

As the U.N. Security Council debated a new round of sanctions in New York, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said in a nationally televised address in Tehran that Iran would not be deterred from pursuing its nuclear programs.

“If they want to treat us with threats of coercion and violence, undoubtedly they must know that the Iranian nation and authorities will use all their capacities to strike the enemies who attack,” the ayatollah said in a speech marking the first day of the Persian new year.

The United States and its European allies think Iran’s nuclear programs are secretly designed to produce nuclear bombs. Iran insists its nuclear efforts are for civilian use and says it has a right to such programs as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“If they take illegal actions, we too can take illegal actions and will do so,” the ayatollah added.

Iran’s U.N. ambassador, Javad Zarif, told a Capitol Hill conference that a new set of U.N. sanctions would not force his country to suspend uranium enrichment, the key U.S. demand as a condition for diplomatic talks.

“Everybody knows the sanctions will not have the intended result, so we should look for other solutions,” Mr. Zarif said.

U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, the administration’s point man on Iran, told a Senate hearing that a set of economic sanctions approved in December had put Iran “on the defensive.” He predicted that the Security Council could approve the new sanctions by the weekend.

The new U.N. resolution draft calls an embargo on Iranian arms sales and expands an asset freeze on Iranian individuals and organizations tied to the nuclear program. Many of the newly sanctioned figures are with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite ideological watchdog closely tied to hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The draft also would “encourage” nations to look at curbing export credits to Iran and restricting top Iranian officials from traveling. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian lawmakers yesterday that Moscow had successfully opposed “excessive sanctions” against Tehran, which has extensive commercial ties with Russia.

The five permanent Security Council members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — are all backing the new sanctions resolution. But South Africa, the current chair of the Security Council, has offered a weaker alternative resolution, forcing negotiations into overtime.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States would like a unanimous Security Council vote but also want a strong sanctions package passed in a “timely” fashion.

U.S. officials have also approved a visa for Mr. Ahmadinejad to travel to New York in the coming days to address the Security Council as the sanctions debate reaches a climax.

Mr. Burns faced sharp questioning from Democrats on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, who said the administration had not done enough under existing U.S. laws to prevent investment in Iran by foreign companies or by foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies.

Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, distributed a chart showing 14 major investments by foreign energy firms such as Royal Dutch Shell and France’s Totalfina in Iran’s oil and gas sectors since 1999. Not one of the deals, worth a combined $126 billion, triggered U.S. sanctions.

Said Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat: “We talk about how we want to act tough with Iran, and then it seems to me we act like a pussycat.”

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