Iran Nuclear NewsDoubts emerge on China's support for Iran sanctions

Doubts emerge on China’s support for Iran sanctions

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New York Sun: Despite conditional assurances from China that it will support U.N. sanctions against Iran, some Bush administration officials are saying privately that they doubt that Beijing will follow through on its promises. The New York Sun

BY ELI LAKE – Staff Reporter of the Sun

WASHINGTON – Despite conditional assurances from China that it will support U.N. sanctions against Iran, some Bush administration officials are saying privately that they doubt that Beijing will follow through on its promises.

The prospects for U.N. Security Council sanctions depend in large part on China and Russia, which hold permanent seats on the council, wield vetoes over its decisions, and have a robust military trade with the Islamic Republic.

For now, the Bush administration is pushing international sanctions on three tracks to dissuade Iran from spinning the centrifuges that its specialists have been operating at its nuclear facility in Natanz since February 2006.

Behind the scenes, the U.S. Air Force has drafted new target lists for Iran.

President Bush has said for the past three years that all options, including military options, are on the table. More recently, the new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has said bluntly that Iran must choose between its nuclear defiance and war. America’s sanctions strategy hinges on China, at least in the United Nations. But Beijing’s message on the Iranian nuclear program differs depending on where it is conveyed.

Yesterday, China’s outgoing ambassador to Tehran, Liu Zhentang, boasted that his country has increased trade with Iran to more than $20 billion annually today from $3.7 billion in 2002, a period that coincides with the international community’s focus on Iran’s nuclear portfolio. The $20 billion in trade is almost equal to the $22 billion in export credits from the European Union. Last Friday, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said European leaders have made assurances that “they are now reducing very dramatically that level of export credit exposure.” Mr. Liu said: “We call for continued talks between Iran and Europe to help peacefully resolve Iran’s nuclear dossier and strongly condemn any threat or use of force to this end,” according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

One Bush administration official alerted this reporter to the Iranian news item, saying: “There is a real concern that China is privately assuring the Iranians that they won’t end up supporting a third resolution. Read between the lines there.” Another American diplomat, however, shrugged off the story. “We’re not too worried about it,” he said. “We are getting a different message from people higher on the food chain than this guy.” Publicly, China and Russia have signed a statement committing themselves, along with America, France, Germany, and Britain, to begin drafting that third resolution this month. But whether that resolution will be brought before the U.N. Security Council in November depends on the reports of the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, and the chief negotiator for the United Nations and European Union with Iran, Javier Solana. Such an outcome represents a victory for Mr. ElBaradei, who proposed in August that Iran’s compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty be based on its disclosure of past information on its nuclear program, not on its suspension of uranium enrichment.

The deal, signed by the six countries on Friday, also delayed American, French, and British plans to call for a vote on the third resolution at the United Nations this month. Furthermore, it has infuriated the Israelis, who feel vulnerable to a potential Iranian strike.

The deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Patrick Clawson, said yesterday that he was pleasantly surprised that China and Russia agreed to begin drafting the sanctions resolution before the reports from Messrs. Solana and ElBaradei. “The Chinese and Russians agreed not only there would be a third sanctions resolution, but they agreed, ‘We will have the resolution all prepared and ready to go.’ That was much more positive than I expected,” he said.

However, Mr. Clawson said a need may arise for America to impose sanctions with the Europeans and other countries. “Remember the Bosnia experience, where the United States and Europe cooperated in freezing assets and banning travel for 600 individuals,” he said. “Those were substantial and broad multilateral sanctions. It has been done before, when progress at the Security Council has been blocked by a permanent member. It would not be a new experience.” Another Western diplomat appeared less sanguine yesterday. “Everyone is dickering with this and Iran is continuing to enrich uranium,” he said.

“This is classic bait and switch. Instead of focusing on the fact that they need to enrich uranium, they want to talk about all these historical issues, which are important, but they are not the central point.”

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