AFP: China said Tuesday sanctions were not the answer to the Iranian atomic standoff, denting US President Barack Obama's hopes of sealing a deal to punish Tehran as he hosted a summit on nuclear arms. By Sebastian Smith
WASHINGTON (AFP) — China said Tuesday sanctions were not the answer to the Iranian atomic standoff, denting US President Barack Obama's hopes of sealing a deal to punish Tehran as he hosted a summit on nuclear arms.
Obama was expected to urge world leaders to harden their resolve to lock down nuclear material on the second day of a 47-nation summit in Washington aimed at keeping atomic weapons out of terrorist hands.
However the conference threatened to be overshadowed by growing tension on Iran, which the United States and its allies accuse of covertly working on a nuclear weapon. Iran says it is pursuing only civilian power.
The two-day gathering saw Obama meet Monday with Chinese President Hu Jintao and others in consultations he described as "impressive", buoyed by Ukraine's renouncement of its bomb-grade uranium.
"I think it's an indication of how deeply concerned everybody should be with the possibilities of nuclear traffic," Obama told reporters.
A top White House official said Obama and Hu agreed their delegations would work together at the United Nations on a push to impose sanctions against Iran.
"They are prepared to work with us," said Jeff Bader, Obama's top official responsible for East Asia on the National Security Council.
"The two presidents agreed the two delegations should work together on sanctions."
However China, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, undercut hopes for a consensus when it said sanctions were not a solution.
"China always believes that dialogue and negotiation are the best way out for the issue. Pressure and sanctions cannot fundamentally solve it," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.
Jiang said China backs a "dual-track strategy" — continued dialogue with Tehran while considering the possibility of sanctions if that fails to halt sensitive nuclear work.
Iran also denied any suggestion that China was now backing the US stance.
"We have a different understanding than yours of the comments made after the meeting of US and Chinese officials," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in Tehran when asked to react to US claims of a breakthrough.
Last week at the UN, envoys of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany discussed a draft resolution sanctioning Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards, and agreed to meet again soon.
Like China, Russia was initially skeptical about new sanctions on Iran, but moved towards the US position more quickly than Beijing.
President Dmitry Medvedev made clear however in an interview with ABC that sanctions on Iranian energy products preferred by some US members of Congress could cause a humanitarian disaster.
"If we're talking about energy sanctions, I'll tell you my opinion. I don't think on that topic we have a chance to achieve a consolidated opinion of the global community on that," Medvedev said.
The first day of the summit was marked by a pledge by the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion, that it was renouncing its bomb-grade uranium.
New President Viktor Yanukovych told Obama he would give up 90 kilos (180 pounds) of Ukraine's highly enriched uranium, the equivalent of several bombs.
Canada and Chile made similar promises on their own smaller stockpiles.
But Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who controls the Islamic world's only declared nuclear arsenal, rebuffed calls to halt production of fissile material and insisted his country needed a deterrent against India.
"I assure you that Pakistan, as a responsible nuclear state and an emerging democracy, stands with the international community in its effort to make this world a better place to live in," Gilani told reporters.
On Tuesday, the United States and Russia were to sign an accord on tidying up plutonium reserves. The deal spells out elimination of the countries' excess plutonium stores — enough "for several thousand nuclear weapons," according to the State Department.
The goal of the summit is to make sure that worldwide stocks of separated plutonium and enriched uranium are destroyed or accounted for and therefore unable to fall into the hands of militant groups.
Obama's top terrorism advisor John Brennan warned that Al-Qaeda's interest in nuclear weapons was "strong" and said the risk of nuclear terrorism was "real," "serious" and "growing."