China agrees to discuss UN sanctions on Iran

A conference call Wednesday between the permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany resulted in China 'agreeing to sit down and begin serious negotiations' on Iran sanctions.

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China told world powers Wednesday it would enter negotiations for new sanctions on Iran, removing the main stumbling block the US had faced in its push to get a resolution through the UN Security Council.

But Thursday, Iran rebutted, saying "sanctions is a threat that has been ineffective" as it sent its chief nuclear negotiator to Beijing, where a Chinese spokesman said Beijing would try for a “peaceful resolution” to the situation through “diplomatic” means – similar language to last September, when a spokesman said "China always believes that sanctions and pressure should not be an option."

The US and its allies have been pushing for tough new sanctions against Iran, which they accuse of using its nuclear program to develop weapons. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, and an agreement in the Security Council has been held up by Russia and China, which both have the right to veto resolutions in the council. A willingness on China’s part to discuss sanctions would mark a distinct turn from its position favoring more negotiations, and markedly improves the chances that a resolution could be passed.

In an interview on CNN, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said that China’s agreement was the first step toward developing a resolution, reports the Associated Press.

"China has agreed to sit down and begin serious negotiations here in New York ... as a first step toward getting the entire U.N. Security Council on board with a tough sanctions regime against Iran," Susan Rice, […] told CNN.

"We're gratified that now we're going to get down to the nuts and bolts of negotiations. That's what's necessary," Rice said. "We will be working intensively in the coming weeks to build the strongest possible agreement to a set of sanctions that will put real pressure on Iran and clarify the stark choice that it faces."

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he wanted sanctions within the next few weeks, a tall order given China’s opposition. The Security Council has imposed three previous rounds of sanctions on Tehran, all involving months of negotiations. The Christian Science Monitor reported in a briefing on Iran sanctions that the effectiveness of previous measures is debated.

This week’s breakthrough occurred in a conference call Wednesday between the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany. The US, Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany are now unified in their position, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, according to the AP.

But the coming weeks will likely include intense negotiations as those nations discuss the specifics of possible sanctions and work to convince the rest of the Security Council that sanctions are necessary. Some non-permanent members, like Brazil, had also voiced opposition to sanctions. The New York Times reports that Brazil’s foreign minister Wednesday continued to favor negotiations, not sanctions, but was open to “any discussions.” The Times reports that Secretary Clinton, at a press conference with the Brazilian official, tried to reconcile the gulf between Brazil’s insistence on negotiations and the US push for sanctions.

Mrs. Clinton suggested that the two approaches — sanctions and diplomacy — were not mutually exclusive. “Action in the Security Council is part of negotiation and diplomacy that perhaps can get the attention of the Iranian leadership,” she said.

On the heels of the US announcement that China had dropped its resistance to sanctions, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday in Beijing that China wanted a peaceful and diplomatic resolution of the conflict, phrases it has used in the past to oppose sanctions. The official made the comments as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator was slated to hold talks with Beijing on Iran’s nuclear program, reports Agence France-Presse.

In a positive sign for the US, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman also announced that President Hu Jintao would attend a nuclear summit in Washington in mid April. According to Reuters, Beijing had been reluctant to confirm his attendance at the summit, which will occur shortly before the US Treasury releases a report that could accuse China of devaluing its currency, an extremely sensitive topic between the two nations.

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