Yesterday the United States released a draft proposal for sanctions against the Iranian government. This would be the fourth round of sanctions since 2006, none of which have resolved any dispute between Iran and the West over their nuclear program, which they say is solely for the purposes of energy generation.

The diplomats said the proposed sanctions called for an outright ban on certain transactions with Iran, whereas the existing sanctions called on United Nations members to exercise “vigilance” or “restraint” in interacting with Iran in some areas of weapons trade, shipping and banking. The focus is on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which runs a vast array of Iranian businesses, while the oil industry is not included, diplomats said.

The proposed sanctions seek to expand other aspects of those already in place, including the list of banks singled out, adding at least the country’s central bank to Bank Melli and Bank Saderat, which were listed before.

The new sanctions would also expand the list of individuals facing a travel ban and assets freeze for their work in the nuclear program. Sanctions to date, which run to about six pages, have singled out companies and individuals involved in the nuclear and missile development programs or in efforts to help to finance them. They include a ban on arms exports.

Member nations of the UN Security Council at first resisted this new call for sanctions. Even a visit from the Secretary of Statecould not convince Brazil to support the effort; the South American country wants a few more months of negotiation. Turkey and Lebanon have also balked at another round of sanctions.

In fact, the vote looks closely divided in the UN body, although the US probably has enough votes to pass the sanctions. However, China and Russia still favor a proposal they floated last year that would swap Iran’s enriched uranium. Russia and China hold veto power over the Security Council, and if they want to keep finding a solution with Iran in this manner through negotiations and without sanctions they have that ability.

The US is trying to sweeten the pot for China and Russia by carving out an exemption to the sanctions for them.

The Obama administration is pushing to carve out an exemption for China and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council from legislation pending in the Senate and the House that would tighten sanctions on companies doing business in Iran, administration and congressional sources said […]

The administration’s plan in effect would label China as a country cooperating in the U.S.-led drive to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and appears to be part of a broader strategy to prod Beijing to vote for a new sanctions resolution. The three previous resolutions enjoyed broad support in the 15-member council, so any result that includes several abstentions or no votes would be viewed as a major diplomatic setback.

But the administration’s lobbying for a Chinese exemption has raised eyebrows in Congress and angered several allies, most notably South Korea and Japan, which would not be exempted under the administration’s plan.

We’ll soon find out if China and Russia have a principled objection to sanctions on the grounds of wanting to continue to negotiate, or if allowing their companies to still operate in Iran is enough. Nobody comes out looking particularly good in that scenario.

David Dayen

David Dayen