UPDATE 1-West eyes Iran central bank, firms in sanction push

* U.S., UK, France, Germany consulting on new sanctions

* France urges sanctions on Iran’s energy sector – envoys

* Russia, China seen opposing tough measures on Iran again

* Iran president says open to nuclear fuel offer
(Adds U.S. officials, Ahmadinejad, diplomats)

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2 (BestGrowthStock) – The United States and
three European powers hope to blacklist Iran’s central bank and
firms linked to the Revolutionary Guard Corps in a new round of
U.N. sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program, diplomats said.

Western powers have called for a fourth round of U.N.
measures against Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment
activities as demanded by five Security Council resolutions.

Iran insists it has a sovereign right to produce nuclear
fuel for what it says is a peaceful civilian atomic energy
program. The West fears the program is for nuclear weapons.

The United States, Britain, France and Germany want to
reach an agreement this month with Russia and China — which
have veto power on the Security Council and have opposed tough
sanctions in the past — so that they can begin work on a new
U.N. sanctions resolution as soon as possible.

Western diplomats told Reuters that U.S. State Department
officials circulated a paper outlining possible new sanctions
to foreign ministry officials in London, Paris and Berlin.

Officials from the four Western powers will hold a
conference call soon, possibly later this week, on a sanctions
proposal to put to Moscow and Beijing, the diplomats said.

A U.S. official said on condition of anonymity that the
Russians were also being consulted. “The Russians are deeply
engaged on the question of what to do next regarding Iran, the
Chinese less so,” he said.

At a meeting in New York last month, senior foreign
ministry officials, known as political directors, from five of
the six powers discussed Iran’s nuclear program. Diplomats said
China sent a low-level envoy who declared Beijing felt it was
not the right time to pursue further sanctions against Tehran.

U.S. plans to sell $6.4 billion in weapons to Taiwan,
diplomats noted, could complicate negotiations with China.

A senior U.S. State Department official said that the full
six also planned to discuss Iran later this week, though a
Western envoy said the Chinese have not confirmed their
availability for that conference call. The six tried to arrange
a call last week but China was unavailable, diplomats said.

Envoys in New York said the four Western powers wanted to
present as ambitious a sanctions package as possible to Russia
and China, which have lucrative economic ties to Iran, because
it would be watered down in subsequent negotiations.

They said the confidential U.S. proposal, described as a
working document that would be revised, covered general areas
where new or broader sanctions could be imposed — including
expanding existing travel bans and asset freezes to other
Iranian individuals and companies.

TARGETING IRAN’S ENERGY SECTOR?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared to reverse
Tehran’s previous rejection of a deal under which Iran would
send most of its enriched uranium for further purification in
Russia and France in exchange for a batch of nuclear fuel.
[ID:nLDE6110ZT]

Iran’s initial rejection of that deal had irritated Moscow,
Western diplomats said. Reacting to Ahmadinejad’s comments, one
European envoy said: “It shows the sanctions threat has an
impact in Tehran, though I wonder whether he really means it.”

It was not clear whether a change of heart by Iran on the
nuclear fuel deal would halt the new sanctions drive.

Several diplomats told Reuters the Western powers would
like to target Iran’s central bank, which they said was a key
player in financing Tehran’s nuclear and missile industries and
in skirting U.N. sanctions.

It was not clear which other banks would be targeted. One
diplomat said they were looking at Iran’s five biggest banks.

Two previous sanctions resolutions passed in March 2007 and
March 2008 blacklisted Iran’s Bank Sepah and urged countries to
“exercise vigilance” over the activities of all Iranian
financial institutions, above all Bank Melli and Bank Saderat.

Iran’s energy sector could also be a target, diplomats
said, although they doubted Russia and China would support such
measures. Diplomats said the French were pushing the hardest
for including energy sector sanctions, arguing that oil and gas
revenues help fund its nuclear and missile programs.

Diplomats said Britain and the United States do not oppose
energy sector sanctions, although they want a quick consensus
among the five permanent Security Council members and Germany.

“If they go for the energy sector, Russia and China will
oppose it,” one diplomat said. “If they want to get a
resolution to the Security Council quickly, and to get Russia’s
and China’s support, they can’t target the energy sector.”

One area where the four Western powers are in total
agreement, diplomats said, is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Corps (IRGC). “We all favor designating key IRGC members and
IRGC-controlled entities,” a diplomat said.

Diplomats said the Western powers hope to have an agreement
among the six this month so they could turn it into a draft
resolution that could be put to a vote in the 15-nation
Security Council before the end of March.

Stock Market Money

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington and
Dave Graham in Berlin; editing by Anthony Boadle)

UPDATE 1-West eyes Iran central bank, firms in sanction push