Anne Penketh: Tough American sanctions likely as Tehran stalls for time

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The Independent Online

By ignoring the deadline for the Western offer, Iran is playinginto the hands of US lawmakers and those within the Obama administration pushing for increased sanctions against Tehran.

Democratic Representative Ron Klein of Florida unveiled legislation this week that could bar telecommunications giants such as Nokia and Siemens from trading with Tehran, saying: "It is time for companies to make a choice: either do business with the US government or do business with Iran."

Sanctions that would target refined petroleum reaching Iran – which has a shortage of domestic refining capacity and is dependent on petrol imports to meet 40 per cent of its needs – are being readied by Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The legislation would in effect bar any foreign entity that sells refined petroleum to Iran from doing business in the US.

Iran again seems to be playing for time with yesterday's mooted counter-response to the Vienna proposal, seeking to keep control over its nuclear fuel cycle rather than outsource it to foreign powers. Iran has remained steadfast on this key point: that it has a treaty right to enrich uranium on its soil for peaceful purposes.

But Tehran's reported plan – which would necessitate the waiving of sanctions already in force – is certain to be rejected by the US, France and Russia which backed the International Atomic Energy Agency proposal. Meanwhile, the Iranian uranium enrichment programme continues unabated in defiance of UN calls for Iran to desist, amid fears among Western governments that the Iranians are bent on building a nuclear weapon.

The Obama administration now looks likely to return to its partners in the UN Security Council to push for tougher sanctions. Hillary Clinton warned Iran earlier in the week that while the administration is holding open the door to a better future for Iran "the process of engagement cannot be open-ended. We are not prepared to talk just for the sake of talking."

Iran will be hoping that its trading partners China and Russia will thwart any global attempt to exact a harsher punishment.

Anne Penketh is Washington programme director of the British American Security Information Council