Six major powers held a second round of talks Wednesday on possible new sanctions against Iran for refusing to negotiate on its nuclear program, which the U.S. and others suspect is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
The United States and its Western allies are pressing for quick adoption of an array of tough sanctions, but Russia and China are still hoping that diplomacy will lead Iran to the negotiating table and have indicated they will only agree to much weaker measures if Tehran refuses.
“We have a very important consultation with a focus on diplomacy,” said China’s United Nations Ambassador Li Baodong, heading into the talks at the U.S. Mission. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador said he expected “a good discussion.”
On the table at the closed-door meeting is a draft U.N. resolution circulated by the U.S. in January, with some changes proposed by Britain, France and Germany. Ambassadors from the six countries held their first closed meeting on the draft last Thursday.
The draft resolution focuses on five areas: strengthening the existing arms embargo, targeting Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, imposing new sanctions on its energy sector, and strengthening sanctions on its shipping and finance sectors, a U.N. diplomat familiar with the talks said. It would also add new names of individuals and entities to a list of those subject to an asset freeze and travel ban for their proliferation-related activities.
Foreign ministers from the five veto-wielding permanent Security Council nations — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — and Germany’s national security adviser met at a dinner Monday in Washington during the Nuclear Security Summit hosted by President Barack Obama and gave “clear confirmation” that negotiations should begin on a fourth sanctions resolution, the U.N. diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussion was private.
Although Obama has called for Security Council action in weeks, the diplomat and others say negotiations will be tough because the gap between the two sides is wide, and it’s much more likely that a resolution won’t be put to a vote until June.
That would avoid any conflict with the five-year review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, which will take place at U.N. headquarters in May. Some countries say leaving sanctions dangling over Iran could encourage Tehran to moderate its actions during the NPT, the U.N. diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.
Putting off a vote until June would also avoid embarrassing Lebanon, which holds the presidency of the U.N. Security Council in May and has indicated its opposition to sanctions against Iran. The presidency passes to Mexico on June 1.
After months of behind-the-scenes consultations, China agreed in late March to take part in talks on a fourth sanctions resolution.
Obama said Tuesday that China’s President Hu Jintao had assured him that China would participate in drafting sessions on strong sanctions.
But Iran expressed doubts later Tuesday that China, which relies on Iran for 11 percent of its energy needs and last year became Tehran’s biggest trading partner, would back the U.S. push for new sanctions. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said he did not think Hu was signaling that with his comments.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in Beijing on Tuesday that China supports a “dual-track strategy,” combining diplomacy with the possibility of international sanctions against Iran, but the country believes “pressure and sanctions cannot fundamentally solve it.”
Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev, at a speaking engagement in Washington, also sought to temper U.S. hopes for biting sanctions.
“If nothing happens, we will have to deal with sanctions,” Medvedev said. “I do not favor paralyzing, crippling sanctions that make people suffer.” AP