China balks at Iran sanctions

Western nations tried to portray Saturday's meeting between the US, UK, France, Germany, China, and Russia as positive, with a senior European Union official saying there was 'consensus' to focus on the 'second track' - meaning sanctions.

Mary Altaffer/AP
The United Nations headquarters in New York on Wednesday.

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Diplomats from six major world powers failed to reach an agreement on pursuing sanctions against Iran in a Saturday meeting in New York.

In an expected move, China resisted sanctions, highlighting the key role that the country, with its United Nations Security Council veto power, is able to play in the international relationship with Iran.

The six parties did agree that Iran’s response to a proposed plan to change and increase monitoring of its nuclear development was unsatisfactory, and that the nations should now begin considering the “second track,” meaning sanctions, reports The New York Times. But China did not back down from its position that sanctions are not yet needed.

To emphasize its point, China sent only sent a low-level representative to the meeting, while the other nations sent senior diplomats.
The meeting, attended by the permanent members of the Security Council – the US, Britain, Russia, China, and France – as well as Germany, was called after the deadline passed for Iran to respond to the UN-backed proposal. That plan, presented in October, would have seen Iran’s uranium sent to Russia for enrichment, then returned as fuel for peaceful reactors. Iran’s rejection of that plan has upset Russia, which has not objected to sanctions as China has.
The Times reports that Western nations tried to portray the meeting as positive, with a senior European Union official saying there was “consensus” among the nations to focus on the “second track.”

Western officials tried to cast a positive light on the meeting by suggesting that all six were at least moving in the same direction, even if it was unclear that China remained committed to the idea of a second track. […]

“We will continue to seek a negotiated solution, but consideration of appropriate further measures has also begun,” said Robert Cooper, a senior European Union official.

Bloomberg reports that the Russian representative at the meeting said most of the discussion revolved around sanctions. The Security Council has imposed sanctions on Iran three times in the past in attempts to convince Iran to halt its nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at developing weapons but Iran maintains is for peaceful uses. The news agency outlined what sanctions would be considered this time, should the group reach an agreement.

The most likely sanctions would target Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and shipping companies that allegedly have violated a UN arms embargo, and would bar nations and international lenders such as the World Bank from giving any grants, loans and other financial aid to Iran except for humanitarian or development purposes.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that China’s opposition to sanctions may be rooted in its uneasiness about the type of sanctions Western countries now want to impose.
China, uneasy about democracy movements, might accept sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard, but would likely reject any that are aimed at supporting Iran’s opposition movement, reports the Monitor.
Meanwhile, US intelligence agencies are preparing to revise their appraisal of Iran’s nuclear program as early as next month, reports Newsweek. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate caused controversy by concluding Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and had not restarted it as of 2007. The new update is likely to be more similar to the intelligence agencies of US allies in its conclusion that Iran is pursing a nuclear weapon, according to Newsweek’s sources.

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