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Clinton: Iran sanctions to be toughest ever

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called the proposed new UN sanctions against Iran's suspect nuclear programme the toughest ever, a day before the UN Security Council was expected to vote on the measure.

Clinton told reporters in Ecuador's capital that there is strong support for a fourth resolution penalising Iran for its refusal to prove its nuclear program is peaceful and defying international demands to halt uranium enrichment.

"I think it is fair (to say) that these are the most significant sanctions that Iran has ever faced," Clinton said at a news conference with Ecuador's president.

"The amount of unity that has been engendered by the international community is very significant." She declined to predict the outcome of the vote in the 15-member Security Council, but US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in London said the measure would pass and pave the way for tougher additional measures by the US and its allies. "The strategy here is a combination of diplomacy and pressure to persuade the Iranians that they are headed in the wrong direction in terms of their own security, that they will undermine their security by pursuit of nuclear weapons, not enhance it," Gates said.

In the final version of the UN resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, sanctions would be tougher than previous penalties but still far short of crippling economic punishments or an oil embargo. The sanctions would ban Iran from pursuing "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons," bar Iranian investment in activities such as uranium mining, and prohibit Iran from buying several categories of heavy weapons including attack helicopters and missiles.

Annexes to the resolution would target 40 new Iranian companies or organisations, including 15 linked to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard. One person was added to the previous list of 40 Iranians subject to an asset freeze, Javad Rahiqi, who heads the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran's Esfahan Nuclear Technology Centre.

The sanctions list also includes 22 companies or organisations involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities and three entities linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. The Security Council held a private meeting on Iran to meet some of the concerns of Brazil and Turkey, which had called for an open "political debate" on the broader Iranian nuclear issue first.

Neither Brazil nor Turkey is one of the five veto-holding permanent members of the council, although both are currently non-permanent members of the 15-member body. They recently announced a fuel-swap agreement with Iran aimed at addressing concerns that it may be enriching uranium for nuclear weapons. After the council meeting, US Ambassador Susan Rice predicted the resolution would be adopted by "a strong majority."

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