Iran Nuclear NewsChina, Russia could back symbolic Iran sanctions

China, Russia could back symbolic Iran sanctions

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ImageReuters: Western powers pushing for new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program face a battle with Russia and China, which may only be persuaded to support steps that are more symbolic than painful. By Louis Charbonneau

ImageUNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Western powers pushing for new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program face a battle with Russia and China, which may only be persuaded to support steps that are more symbolic than painful.

For weeks, officials from the United States, Britain, France and Germany have been discussing the kinds of punitive measures they should include in a draft U.N. Security Council resolution they hope to show to Russia and China as early as next week, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.

"It's time to start haggling with the Russians and Chinese so we can get a sanctions text to the Security Council in the near future," one Western diplomat said. "We believe we can get their support, though it will come at a price."

Another senior diplomat predicted the final result would be a "symbolic" tightening of sanctions against Tehran.

"Specific sanctions measures aside, the unity of the six will send a strong signal to Iran," the second diplomat said.

Tehran has already been hit with three rounds of U.N. blacklistings, travel bans and asset freezes aimed at individuals and companies involved in its nuclear and missile programs. But Iran continues to reject the Security Council's demands for a halt to its nuclear enrichment program.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog in Vienna suggested in its latest report on Iran that the Islamic Republic was actively pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.

Tehran, which says its nuclear program is for civilian and medical use and rejects Western allegations Iran wants atomic weapons, dismissed the watchdog's report as misleading, unbalanced and incomplete.

Russia and China, which both have veto power on the Security Council, have close business ties with Iran. While they supported the three rounds of U.N. sanctions against Tehran, they fought hard to dilute all three before the votes.

But there are signs China would reluctantly vote for new sanctions. Analysts say it would probably join Russia if Moscow decided to support a fourth sanctions resolution.

The Western powers hoped the five veto-wielding permanent Security Council members and Germany could agree on a draft resolution by the end of February, which the six could submit to the full council to be voted on by the end of March.

But diplomats said negotiations with the Russians and Chinese would take time and a vote in the full council was unlikely next month. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday it might not happen until late April.

"We hope that in the next 30-60 days we'll see a sanctions resolution emerge in New York," Clinton said, adding there may be "bilateral or multilateral sanctions on top of whatever may be the result of the Security Council deliberations."

European Union diplomats have said the 27-nation bloc hoped to follow up any new U.N. sanctions with its own tougher measures aimed at curtailing EU business with Iran.

RUSSIA OPPOSES ENERGY, BANK SANCTIONS

The United States and France have proposed targeting Iran's central bank, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other Iranian banks and companies in a fourth round of sanctions.

Israel, which diplomats fear could someday attack Iran's nuclear installations, has urged Russia to support "crippling" sanctions.

France has taken a harder line than Washington in talks on new punitive measures, Western diplomats say. Paris has advocated sanctions against Iran's energy sector, arguing that oil and gas revenues support its nuclear and missile programs.

Washington, London and Berlin do not reject energy sector sanctions but worry that pressing for them would unnecessarily drag out negotiations with Russia and China, diplomats say.

Moscow has been signaling growing frustration with Iran over its nuclear program, although the Kremlin has given few indications about what sanctions it would be prepared to back.

China has kept the four Western powers guessing about whether it would back any new sanctions at all.

Oleg Rozhkov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's security affairs and disarmament department, said on Wednesday that Russia would only consider sanctions aimed at strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime. He rejected the idea of targeting banks and the energy sector.

The Security Council has already blacklisted Iran's Bank Sepah and urged countries to exercise vigilance when dealing with Bank Melli and Bank Saderat. Western diplomats said they hope to blacklist Melli and Saderat with the new resolution.

Beijing routinely calls for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. But on Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry urged Iran to "enhance cooperation" with U.N. inspectors, suggesting it was not entirely happy with Tehran's approach.

Yin Gang, a Middle East expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, made clear in an opinion piece that China's tolerance has limits.

"China is a friend of Iran's but friends must also observe principles," Yin wrote in the Global Times, a Chinese tabloid that often dwells on nationalist themes. "China cannot ignore the international community's universal demands regarding Iran."

Diplomats said they doubted China would link support on Iran to its dispute with Washington over the planned sale of U.S. weapons to Taiwan, which Beijing claims as a rebellious island.

Iran supplies China with oil but Western diplomats say Saudi Arabia, Beijing's top supplier, is more important to Chinese energy security.

The Saudis, they say, are suspicious of Iran's ambitions in the Middle East and have urged China to use its leverage to put pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington, Chris Buckley in Beijing and Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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