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Choose your own Iran sanctions adventure at the U.N.?

The discussions over Iran sanctions at the U.N. Security Council are taking shape, as member countries converge around a plan to put forth a resolution that may not have the teeth some advocates want, but could be used as a vehicle for other entities to pursue more biting sanctions. The idea is to the keep ...

The discussions over Iran sanctions at the U.N. Security Council are taking shape, as member countries converge around a plan to put forth a resolution that may not have the teeth some advocates want, but could be used as a vehicle for other entities to pursue more biting sanctions.

The idea is to the keep the actual penalties in the U.N. resolution, currently being negotiated in New York, vague enough to bring the Russians on board while allowing the United States and the European Union to move forward with tougher measures on their own, according to two European diplomats familiar with the discussions.

The U.N. resolution would ideally contain several "buzzwords" that would provide justification for the tougher measures, opening doors to expanded sanctions on Iranian banks, for example, the diplomats said. Pro-sanctions countries are looking to delink the measures aimed at Iranian financial institutions from their suspected activities related to proliferation, so that proving such activities would not be necessary to punish the organizations.

The pro-sanctions forces on the Security Council feel bolstered by the latest IAEA report on Iran, which alluded to work on nuclear warheads, and by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s recent warning that Iran is "moving towards a military dictatorship."

The Russian side is working relatively well with the other Security Council members, these diplomats report, although resisting the harder-line items that are likely not to be included in the new resolution. China’s current position is that now is not the time for new sanctions, but the other actors are hoping that the Chinese will eventually be forced to choose between siding with the international community or siding with Iran, and will feel enough pressure to at least abstain from the final vote.

There is still a lot of concern about other U.N. Security Council members, especially Turkey and Brazil, who are poised to resist a new sanctions resolution.  "It’s not as good a Security Council as we’ve had in previous rounds," one diplomat lamented.

The end of February is still technically the deadline for the negotiations, but that is likely to slip a couple of weeks, the diplomats said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and the EU are already moving forward with increased pressure on the Iranian government. The Washington TimesEli Lake reported today that the Obama administration is likely to declare Iran’s central bank as a terrorist-supporting entity, in addition to the more than one dozen Iranian banks already targeted by the Treasury Department.

EU foreign ministers have reportedly prepared a list of new sanctions they plan to unveil. Insurer Lloyd’s of London said it will abide by the new sanctions currently making their way through the U.S. Congress, and Germany’s Munich Re said it will not renew its contracts in Iran.

There are also increased signs of close coordination between the U.S. and Israel on the Iran issue. In addition to the trip this week by Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy, there have been a flurry of high-level visits back and forth in recent weeks.

CIA Director Leon Panetta was there at the end of January, National Security Advisor Jim Jones was in Israel in February, Chairman of Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen and Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew were there last week, Vice President Joe Biden is expected there March 4. From the Israeli side, Defense Minister Ehud Barak will be in Washington this week and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be in town March 21, and then back again for the nuclear security conference in April.

"You are seeing a very steady, and even stepped-up level, of strategic coordination between the U.S. and Israel at the moment," said one Washington-based Middle East hand. "And given the meaningful shift in tone in public and policy in private that we are seeing from the administration, not to mention the IAEA seeing signs of warhead work in Iran, those talks are sure to be very, very sensitive."

The discussions over Iran sanctions at the U.N. Security Council are taking shape, as member countries converge around a plan to put forth a resolution that may not have the teeth some advocates want, but could be used as a vehicle for other entities to pursue more biting sanctions.

The idea is to the keep the actual penalties in the U.N. resolution, currently being negotiated in New York, vague enough to bring the Russians on board while allowing the United States and the European Union to move forward with tougher measures on their own, according to two European diplomats familiar with the discussions.

The U.N. resolution would ideally contain several "buzzwords" that would provide justification for the tougher measures, opening doors to expanded sanctions on Iranian banks, for example, the diplomats said. Pro-sanctions countries are looking to delink the measures aimed at Iranian financial institutions from their suspected activities related to proliferation, so that proving such activities would not be necessary to punish the organizations.

The pro-sanctions forces on the Security Council feel bolstered by the latest IAEA report on Iran, which alluded to work on nuclear warheads, and by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s recent warning that Iran is "moving towards a military dictatorship."

The Russian side is working relatively well with the other Security Council members, these diplomats report, although resisting the harder-line items that are likely not to be included in the new resolution. China’s current position is that now is not the time for new sanctions, but the other actors are hoping that the Chinese will eventually be forced to choose between siding with the international community or siding with Iran, and will feel enough pressure to at least abstain from the final vote.

There is still a lot of concern about other U.N. Security Council members, especially Turkey and Brazil, who are poised to resist a new sanctions resolution.  "It’s not as good a Security Council as we’ve had in previous rounds," one diplomat lamented.

The end of February is still technically the deadline for the negotiations, but that is likely to slip a couple of weeks, the diplomats said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and the EU are already moving forward with increased pressure on the Iranian government. The Washington TimesEli Lake reported today that the Obama administration is likely to declare Iran’s central bank as a terrorist-supporting entity, in addition to the more than one dozen Iranian banks already targeted by the Treasury Department.

EU foreign ministers have reportedly prepared a list of new sanctions they plan to unveil. Insurer Lloyd’s of London said it will abide by the new sanctions currently making their way through the U.S. Congress, and Germany’s Munich Re said it will not renew its contracts in Iran.

There are also increased signs of close coordination between the U.S. and Israel on the Iran issue. In addition to the trip this week by Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy, there have been a flurry of high-level visits back and forth in recent weeks.

CIA Director Leon Panetta was there at the end of January, National Security Advisor Jim Jones was in Israel in February, Chairman of Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen and Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew were there last week, Vice President Joe Biden is expected there March 4. From the Israeli side, Defense Minister Ehud Barak will be in Washington this week and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be in town March 21, and then back again for the nuclear security conference in April.

"You are seeing a very steady, and even stepped-up level, of strategic coordination between the U.S. and Israel at the moment," said one Washington-based Middle East hand. "And given the meaningful shift in tone in public and policy in private that we are seeing from the administration, not to mention the IAEA seeing signs of warhead work in Iran, those talks are sure to be very, very sensitive."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

Tag: Iran

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