Hauling Iran before the UN Security Council over its nuclear ambitions is unlikely to lead to crippling sanctions against Tehran. The international community still prefers pursuing negotiations, experts say.
Going before the UN Security Council doesn't necessarily mean sanctions
Responding to Iran's decision to resume sensitive nuclear fuel work, Europe's three major powers on Thursday asked for an emergency meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to refer the issue to the UN Security Council, which could slap sanctions.
"We believe the time has now come for the Security Council to become involved to reinforce the authority of IAEA resolutions," the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, who have been trying to coax Iran into renouncing a nuclear weapons capability, said in Berlin.
US Middle East experts interviewed dismiss the prospects of biting sanctions on Iran.
Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, felt that the Europeans would be reluctant to slap tough sanctions against Tehran.
"But there are other things you may be able to do: diplomatic sanctions, reducing the size of Iranian representatives abroad, reducing the size of the embassies, maybe barring some transfers of technology," he said.
"There are things you can do along the margins, which can be not very substantial but do have some symbolic importance at least."
Too early to tell
UN diplomats said it was premature to discuss the various sanctions options given that the ball was still in the IAEA court.
Picture shows the uranium enrichment complex in the Iranian town of Isfahan
They said the issue was unlikely to come before the 15-member council before next month when the United States takes over the rotating presidency of the powerful body.
A European official speaking on the margins of the Berlin meeting said the IAEA board of governors could be convened "in the coming weeks." He refused to be more specific.
"What we want to do is use the authority and weight of the Security Council to bring home to Iran the importance of abiding the resolution of the IAEA," the official said. "Don't expect us to move straight to sanctions."
Negotiations broke down
Britain, France and Germany have been leading more than two years of delicate negotiations with Iran to allay Western fears that it is seeking to develop a weapons programme, a charge the Islamic republic strongly denies.
Iran sparked a furious international reaction this week for breaking seals on three nuclear facilities in order to resume nuclear fuel work.
"The Iranians have significant oil and gas reserves and the excess capacity in the system is quite tight," Jon Alterman, Middle East Program Director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told AFP.
"So the Iranian bet is that with the current oil energy market there is no way that serious sanctions that will cripple the government are possibly in sight," he told AFP. "The assumption is that the world can talk and bluster but at the end of the day it will not threaten (their) grip on power."
Russia and China ?
Alterman pointed out that neither Russia nor China -- two veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council which have significant economic interests in Iran -- were likely to back biting sanctions.
IAEA's Director General Mohamed ElBaradei has the key role in the dispute
"If push comes to shove, they (Russians and Chinese) don't want a war with the Iranians but they want the Iranians to reduce the level of tension that they are creating," he added. "And sanctions will not frighten the government of Iran."
Alterman saw the whole negotiating process as "a time game."
As to the prospect for US or Israeli military action against Iranian facilities, he said: "I don't see the prospect of either one in the near term but I could envisage any number of scenarios in the next five years where that would be an option."