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. UN debates sanctions draft as Iran remains defiant
UNITED NATIONS, March 21 (AFP) Mar 22, 2007
Sponsors of a UN Security Council draft resolution to tighten sanctions on Iran agreed to meet Thursday to consider amendments after Tehran warned world powers it will defend its right to nuclear power.

It was unclear when the draft would be put to a vote. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said he wants to address the council on the issue before the votes are cast.

The draft bans Tehran from exporting arms, calls for voluntary trade sanctions and expands a list of officials and companies targeted for financial and travel restrictions, toughening sanctions already imposed in December.

The 15-member Council held closed-door consultations Wednesday on the text, which the council's five veto-wielding members (P5) -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany agreed last week.

Council members are to meet Thursday to consider an amended draft which the sponsors promised to produce based on changes offered by South Africa, Qatar and Indonesia.

Western powers fear Iran aims to produce nuclear weapons with the enriched uranium, though Tehran insists the fuel is for peaceful purposes.

In Iran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remained defiant.

Iran "will use all its capabilities to respond to threats and to the use of force and violence," he warned in a televised speech broadcast Wednesday from the holy city of Mashhad.

"If they want to use threats, to resort to force and violence, then without a doubt the people and the authorities will use all their capabilities to strike the enemies," Khamenei said

Khamenei also denounced what he called "exploitation of the Security Council" by world powers over Iran's uranium enrichment program.

Earlier Wednesday Ahmadinejad attacked "Zionists who dominate the world" in a message marking the Iranian new year, or Nowruz, and said Iran was determined to defend its position in the nuclear standoff.

Washington confirmed on Monday it had granted visas to Ahmadinejad and 38 aides and bodyguards to travel to New York, though it was unclear when the vote will be held.

Both Qatari Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser and South African ambassador Dumisani Kumalo did not believe the vote would come up this week. "We need more time because this is a very sensitive issue," said the Qatari envoy.

South Africa dismantled its nuclear weapons program in the early 1990s during its transition from white minority rule, and has consistently defended Iran's right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

Kumalo said the draft must respect Iran's "right to the peaceful use of nuclear (energy)" and assert the leading role of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear monitoring agency, in determining the nature of the Iranian atomic program.

South Africa, which took up its non-permanent Security Council seat in January, has acted as a mediator in the nuclear standoff with Iran.

Separately Iran's UN envoy rejected the idea, put forth by some diplomats, of a concurrent suspension of sanctions and Tehran's uranium enrichment as a way to defuse the showdown.

"Suspension, in the best-case scenario is a two month band-aid. What would happen at the end of two months?" Ambassador Javad Zarif said, addressing a policy conference on Iran by video link to the US capital.

France's UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said after closed-door Council consultations that the draft had "strong support" among members.

But he added that the co-sponsors were willing to incorporate some of the amendments as they "could give clarity to the text and improve (it)."

Qatar and Indonesia have both proposed including in the draft a paragraph recalling the goal of a "Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery."

However draft sponsors rejected a South African proposal for a 90-day suspension of UN sanctions to allow political negotiations with Tehran.

De La Sabliere said the proposal was "not consistent with the text, the Security Council approach, which is an incremental approach based on the idea that more pressure on Iran is needed."

In Washington, US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said he hoped the resolution would act as a "vise" that would start to isolate Tehran from the rest of the world and force Iran to "think twice" about its options.

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