Diplomats from six major powers were to meet yesterday to discuss whether Iran should face new UN sanctions for refusing to halt sensitive nuclear work, but Western envoys said China’s decision to send a low-level official ruled out a quick deal.
The meeting comes after Tehran ignored last year’s deadline set by US President Barack Obama for Iran to respond to an offer from the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China of economic and political incentives in exchange for halting its nuclear program.
Five of the six nations that made the offer were sending senior foreign ministry officials — so-called political directors — to the meeting.
However, China decided not to send its political director. Instead, Beijing was expected to send a low-level diplomat from its UN mission, diplomats in New York said.
“We’re expecting a political expert from the Chinese mission who won’t have any decision-making authority,” a diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
China’s virtual snub of the six-power meeting has caused consternation among the four Western powers in the group, which had hoped to use yesterday’s meeting to reach an agreement on whether to begin drafting a new Security Council resolution on a fourth round of UN sanctions against Tehran.
Diplomats said they did not know China’s motive, speculating it might be to illustrate Beijing’s resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or dismay at US arms sales to Taiwan.
“There’s not much point in having the meeting in light of the Chinese representation, but we’re going to have it,” a diplomat from one of the six countries said. “We need to send a message to Iran that we’re not dropping this issue.”
“I wouldn’t expect a particular deliverable out of this meeting,” US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on Friday.
Washington and its Western allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of its civilian atomic program. Iran says its atomic program is designed to generate electricity so it can export more of its valuable oil and gas.
The US and European delegations believe Iran has had enough time to respond to what they describe as a generous offer to Tehran, but China’s UN envoy, Zhang Yesui (張業遂), said on Jan. 5 it was not “the right time or right moment for sanctions because the diplomatic efforts are still going on.”
The process of negotiating a new sanctions resolution will most likely take months, Western diplomats said.
US and other Western officials have said privately that Russia is “on board” for a new round of sanctions, but several Western diplomats voiced skepticism the Russians would support tough measures against the Iranians.
Existing UN sanctions target Iran’s nuclear and missile industries. The Western powers had originally hoped to sanction Iran’s energy sector, but they dropped the idea months ago when it became clear Russia and China would never accept it.
In order to secure Beijing’s and Moscow’s support, Western diplomats said they would probably be willing to accept a less ambitious resolution that adds a few new names of Iranian individuals and firms to a UN blacklist and focuses some attention on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard corps.
They said Russia would probably back such a resolution, but it was not clear if they could get the backing of Beijing, a veto-wielding permanent Security Council member like Russia, the US, Britain and France.
China and Russia, which have lucrative commercial ties with Tehran, supported all three previous rounds of UN sanctions but lobbied hard to dilute the measures before they were voted on by the 15-nation Security Council.
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