Tehran lobbies China against new Iran sanctions

Tehran urged China not to bend to US pressure for new Iran sanctions, which Vice President Joe Biden strongly supported in meetings with top Israel leaders today.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a joint statement with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Tuesday. Iran’s diplomatic nod toward China comes as Mr. Biden stated in Israel Tuesday that Washington was 'determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.'

Tehran stepped up its diplomatic push to avoid a new set of sanctions against Iran on Tuesday, calling on China not to buckle under pressure from a US-led effort to slap a fourth round of United Nations Security Council sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program.

“China is a great country which enjoys enough power to pursue its own decisions independently without being pressured by America,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehranparast said of the Islamic Republic’s closest trading partner. “Of course our expectations from such a big country is the same … to pursue its foreign policies independently and just observe its own national interests.

Iran’s diplomatic nod toward Beijing comes as US Vice President Joe Biden stated in Israel Tuesday that Washington was “determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and we’re working with many countries around the world.”

Biden: No space between US, Israel on Iran

Mr. Biden said there was “no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.” Israel routinely declares that Iran is an existential threat to the Jewish state.

Arch-foe Iran has consistently stated that its program is only for peaceful power purposes, that Islam forbids atomic bombs, and that it wants a Middle East free of all nuclear weapons – a reference to Israel’s unacknowledged arsenal of an estimated 200 warheads.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was pleased that the Obama administration was pushing hard for more sanctions on Iran. Israeli officials have warned of their own military action against Iran.

“The stronger those sanctions are, the more likely it will be that the Iranian regime will have to choose between advancing its nuclear program and advancing the future of its own permanence,” said Mr. Netanyahu after meeting with Biden.

China, Russia have supported previous sanctions

China is one of five veto-wielding members on the Security Council, but despite close ties to Iran it joined with the other permanent council member close to Iran – Russia – in previous unanimous votes that imposed three sets of United Nations' sanctions. Those resolutions demand that Iran cease enriching uranium while outstanding questions about possible weaponization projects are resolved.

The US and European Union have also imposed a string of their own targeted measures aimed at undermining Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and the Revolutionary Guard officers who oversee them.

Iran snubbed a US-backed deal put forward in October by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that would have seen Iran export the bulk of its homemade low-enriched uranium to be converted into fuel by France and Russia for a research reactor in Tehran.

Iran first appeared to accept the deal, but quickly rejected it. Then, amid a host of mixed messages, Iran replied months later with an adjusted counteroffer that the US and some European officials say is unacceptable.

China: Diplomacy 'cannot be lightly abandoned'

In the meantime, Iran says it has begun to enrich uranium to higher levels – from 3.5 percent to nearly 20 percent, which would be suitable for nuclear fuel, but still not at the 90 percent level needed for a weapon.

That decision has unsettled governments from Washington to Moscow. Ongoing enrichment and the defiant rhetoric from Tehran has driven the renewed push for sanctions. A draft of new measures is already in circulation among diplomats.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Brazil last week to convince that temporary Security Council member to support sanctions – but she was rebuffed instead with a reaffirmation by Brazil of Iran’s unhindered right to nuclear power.

Russia has said it is willing to consider new sanctions if they are targeted, and not designed to “cripple” Iran’s population. China’s foreign minister said Sunday that new sanctions would not solve the nuclear issue – a point privately acknowledged by senior US officials, who note that no level of sanctions upon Iran have compelled it to change policy in the past.

“China upholds resolving the Iran nuclear issue peacefully, through dialogue, negotiation and diplomatic means,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on Tuesday. “We also believe that at present, there is still room for diplomatic efforts.”

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