UNITED NATIONS - Britain and France said on Thursday they hope the UN Security Council will vote next week on a revised sanctions resolution against Iran over its atomic program, which the West fears is aimed at making bombs.
Tehran denies wanting nuclear weapons but has ignored three previous Security Council resolutions demanding that it freeze its uranium enrichment program, which can produce fuel for nuclear power plants or atomic weapons.
British Ambassador to the United Nations John Sawers and his French counterpart Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters after a meeting of the UN Security Council they had formally submitted the draft resolution to the 15-nation body.
"The text that we circulated today reflects some of the comments we've had back from delegations," Sawers said. "Of course it's open to further comments."
The United States, which supports the text drafted by Britain, France and Germany, had hoped the resolution would be passed weeks ago. But several council members insisted they delay a vote until after the UN nuclear watchdog in Vienna issues its latest report on Iran on Friday.
Ripert made it clear that the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) report focused on the agency's investigations of Iran's past nuclear activities and was therefore of little relevance to the sanctions debate.
"It won't answer the question (of suspension) and it's not enough," Ripert said of the upcoming IAEA report.
Diplomats in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, say agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei is expected to say in the report that he has made significant progress in resolving outstanding questions related to Iran's past nuclear activities.
The draft, obtained by Reuters, calls for asset freezes and mandatory travel bans for specific Iranian officials and vigilance on all banks in Iran.
It also expands the list of Iranian officials and companies targeted by the sanctions and repeats the council's demand that Iran halt nuclear enrichment activity.
"They are a further increment on the sanctions that have already been introduced into the council," Sawers said. He was referring to two previous UN sanctions resolutions approved by the council in December 2006 and March 2007.
The changes were generally minor language adjustments and did not affect the substance of the penalties. In one addition, however, the Security Council encouraged EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to continue communicating with Iran to resolve the stand-off diplomatically.
The previous text proved unacceptable to South Africa and other members of the Non-Aligned Movement on the council and it was unclear if further revisions would be necessary before a vote, which the United States would be reluctant to accept.
Israel, a country Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said should be wiped off the map, made it clear that it would have preferred tougher penalties for Tehran, not simply what Western diplomats say is a moderate tightening of the screws.
"It's the best thing you can get with the present composition of the Security Council," Dan Gillerman, Israel's UN ambassador, told reporters. "We're not so naive as to think this resolution will put a stop to" Iran's nuclear program.