Tougher Iran sanctions on agenda of London meeting

Restrictions on trade and arms for Iran were likely to be considered at a Monday meeting of diplomats from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany, as the world powers seek new ways to pressure Tehran to suspend parts of its nuclear program.

Senior representatives of the six nations were to meet at London's Foreign Office at midday to discuss how to respond to Iran's failure to respect a U.N. deadline to halt its uranium enrichment work.

The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency confirmed Thursday that Iran had ignored a Security Council ultimatum to freeze enrichment a possible pathway to nuclear arms and had instead expanded its program.

A senior British diplomat who will be attending Monday's meeting said diplomats would examine options for further sanctions, including whittling away at lucrative export credits Iran receives from Europe in support of trade. Restrictions on arms exports to Iran are also likely to be discussed, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

No conclusions are expected after the meeting. Instead, the diplomats will return to their home capitals to report on the issues they discussed.

The U.S. and its European allies have been urging Iran to halt its enrichment program and re-enter negotiations meant to ease concerns that Tehran could be intending to use its civilian nuclear power program as a cover to produce weapons. Iran has refused to give up enrichment, and insists its only interest in the technology is for the production of fuel for nuclear power plants.

The British official said there was evidence that the Security Council's adoption of limited economic sanctions against Iran in December had begun to show success.

The Dec. 23 resolution ordered all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs and to freeze assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to those programs.

Besides a wider arms embargo and new economic penalties, other diplomats said last week that new, tougher measures could include a mandatory travel ban against individuals on the U.N. list and an expansion of the list to make more individuals and companies subject to sanctions.

Russia and China, which both have strong commercial ties to Tehran, forced other council nations the U.S., Britain and France to drop a travel ban and other tougher measures from the December resolution and it is likely they will resist some of the harsher restrictions this time around as well.

Still, the British diplomat said all participants in the talks supported an incremental tightening of sanctions, reports AP.

On the possibility of economic penalties, he noted that European agencies provide US$20 billion (EUR15 billion) worth of export credits to support trade with Iran and that some of those credits were already shrinking.

Meanwhile, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, continued to sound a defiant tone. State-run radio quoted him as saying Sunday that Iran would press ahead with uranium enrichment. He also described his nation's path as a train with no brakes.

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