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Iran Faces Stiffer U.N. Sanctions

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

And now to the United Nations, where the Security Council has unanimously voted to tighten sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program.

Here's British Ambassador Emyr Jones Perry.

Ambassador EMYR JONES PERRY (British Ambassador to the United Nations): The resolve of the council is clear: Iran must make its choice.

NPR's Michele Keleman is at the U.N. and joins me now. Michele, how are these new sanctions different from the ones passed back in December, and what is the Security Council hoping to achieve with them?

MICHELE KELEMAN: Well, it adds a couple of different elements. First of all, there's an asset freeze for 28 individuals and entities, and this now includes a state-owned Iranian bank and also several commanders of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. There's also, interestingly enough, an Iranian - a ban on Iranian arms exports.

And the U.S. considers this a key element of it because the U.S. accuses Iran of arming terrorists like Hezbollah and Hamas and they are hoping that this can go after that. So it doesn't only deal with the nuclear issue. It's also dealing with U.S. allegations that Iran is supporting terrorism.

Now, what U.S. and European diplomats say, this is all part of their strategy to step up the pressure on Iran - they call these, you know, incremental and reversible steps - to get Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities within 60 days or face more sanctions. And the idea is, if you suspend, then we'll suspend the sanctions.

ELLIOTT: Now, we'd expected that Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would address the U.N., but he did not come in the end. Why not?

KELEMEN: Well, Iranian officials say he called off his trip because the flight crew members didn't get their visas in time. The U.S. denies that. They said they issued 75 visas for this delegation; he had time to come, and that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just didn't want to feel the heat or face the heat in the Security Council.

Who ended up coming was the foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, and it was interesting because he didn't go there in time for the beginning. And I'm told he wasn't even in the chamber when they voted. He came rushing in after the session had started, waited until he was called up to speak to go into the chamber, and basically said, you know, we're not going to change our policies because of threats of intimidation and pressure from the West.

ELLIOTT: Now, as the Security Council voted, Iran was holding 15 British marines and sailors for allegedly entering Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf illegally. How did that affect today's debate?

KELEMEN: Well, the British ambassador didn't mention it at all in his statement on the floor. He's - all week - I mean the past couple of days really been saying this is not linked to the nuclear issue. We don't want this linked, but we're going to use every chance we can to make our case that these 15 sailors and marines should be released.

I was talking to a spokesman earlier in the day, and he was saying, yeah, of course, if the foreign minister comes, we're going to use this opportunity to continue saying this and to put pressure on Iran to release these people. But he didn't even know if the foreign minister was going to be here. So now that he's here, I'm sure there will be some backroom pressure.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Michele Kelemen at the United Nations. Thank you.

KELEMEN: You're welcome, Deb - Debbie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.