Increasing Pressure on Iran Merkel Calls on Russia and China to Support Tougher Sanctions

Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on China and Russia to support tough sanctions against Tehran in the UN Security Council. She also said that the European Union would take action by itself if UN sanctions did not get passed.

A nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran: Angela Merkel has called on Russia and China to support tough sanctions against Tehran.

A nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran: Angela Merkel has called on Russia and China to support tough sanctions against Tehran.

The rhetoric in the conflict over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program is heating up as the US and its allies prepare to present a package of tough new sanctions to the United Nations Security Council. Now German Chancellor Angela Merkel has lent her voice to the debate, insisting on the importance of a common position by the international community.

"The international community is currently working to tighten sanctions if Iran does not come around," Merkel said in an interview with Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper published Thursday. She said she hoped that UN Security Council permanent members Russia and China, who have previously been skeptical about sanctions, would be "responsible" and take part in sanctions. "The next few weeks will show whether this is possible," Merkel said.

If there is no unanimity within the UN Security Council, however, Europe would act alone, she said. "We will agree on the way forward in close conjunction with the European Union," Merkel told the newspaper. "We want to take all steps together as Europeans."

In the interview, Merkel insisted that the costs of an Iran with nuclear weapons and the dangers of a possible arms race in the Middle East are greater than the costs of lost business with the Islamic Republic as a result of sanctions.

'Cause for Great Concern'

German companies, who are among Iran's most important trading partners, are also worried about Iran's nuclear program, Merkel continued. "The developments in Iran are cause for great concern," she said. "Many people in the business community share that view."

She also argued that sanctions on new economic areas will have the desired effect. "We have the impression that Iran will respond to pressure in certain areas," she told the newspaper. "For example, everything that has to do with refining technology and oil products have a strategic significance for Iran."

Earlier this week, SPIEGEL ONLINE reported that EU finance and trade experts have already worked out a confidential catalogue of possible sanctions. For the first time, the EU is envisaging a program that targets the entire Iranian economy, including measures to hit the energy and financial sectors, where the regime is particularly vulnerable.

The US is also intent on pushing sanctions forward. "Iran is at the top of my agenda," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday in Washington. She spoke of "tremendous progress" in getting Russia to "endorse" the American position on Iran, but admitted it was harder to get China's support for a tougher stance against Tehran.

No 'Crippling' Sanctions

Moscow has shown increasing irritation with Tehran recently and has said it would not rule out a new round of UN sanctions against Iran. On Wednesday, though, a senior official in the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow would not support "crippling" sanctions. "We are not going to work on sanctions or measures which could lead to the political or economic or financial isolation of this country," Oleg Rozhkov, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry's security affairs and disarmament department, said according to Reuters.

As veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, Russia and China would need to approve the measures. Clinton said Wednesday she hoped to see a Security Council resolution on new sanctions within the "next 30 to 60 days."

Pressure from the Iranian side is also increasing, however. On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced plans to build two new uranium enrichment plants. Work is due to begin some time after March, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, said.

The US and the EU believe that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran, however, stresses that it is only interested in peaceful energy production. Iran says it is still prepared to trade its low-enriched uranium for highly enriched uranium from France and Russia under a deal proposed by the West. Tehran insists the exchange must take place on Iranian soil, a condition that the West rejects.

dgs -- with wire reports


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