Iran Nuclear NewsBeijing blocks talks on tackling Iran nuclear threat

Beijing blocks talks on tackling Iran nuclear threat


ImageThe Times: A key meeting aimed at tackling Iran’s suspected nuclear arms programme has ended in failure after a low-level Chinese delegate blocked a new round of sanctions against the Islamic republic. The Times

James Bone in New York

ImageA key meeting aimed at tackling Iran’s suspected nuclear arms programme has ended in failure after a low-level Chinese delegate blocked a new round of sanctions against the Islamic republic.

Political directors from the foreign offices of Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States met in New York on Saturday, with China sending only a junior diplomat from its UN mission.

The six-power group, known as the E3+3, agreed that Iran had given an inadequate response to its overtures by the year-end deadline set by President Obama. The UN has so far imposed three rounds of limited sanctions on Iran — in December 2006, March 2007 and March 2008 — to force it to stop enriching uranium in its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The Western powers want to proceed with a fourth round.

However, at the three-hour meeting on Saturday China, which imports about 15 per cent of its oil from Iran, went no farther than saying that it was ready to agree to start talks on possible sanctions. The participants will confer again by telephone before the end of the month, but the political directors do not know who to call in China. “It is inconclusive in the sense that we didn’t make any decisions right away,” Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, told reporters.

China’s long-time Iran negotiator, He Yafei, skipped the meeting even though it had been postponed from before Christmas so that he could attend.

New York was even chosen as the venue so that he could travel there from a visit to Mexico.

Instead, China was represented at Saturday’s meeting by Kang Yong, a counsellor in its UN delegation in New York.

Complicating matters further, Mr He has now been removed from his post as a deputy foreign minister and named China’s Ambassador to Geneva. The other Iran negotiators do not know who is to replace him.

At the meeting, Mr Kang repeated Beijing’s position that it was not the time for new UN sanctions. Western officials noted, however, that China did not say never. They aim to have a new round of UN sanctions passed before the start of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference in New York in May.

Robert Cooper, the EU official who chaired the meeting, said that Iran had failed to follow up on the key commitments that it made at its last meeting with the six powers in Geneva on October 1, “in particular by refusing further meetings to discuss the nuclear issue”.

He said that the group was also concerned about Iran’s construction of a secret uranium enrichment facility near Qom, its lack of co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and its failure to take up the UN agency’s offer to swap Iranian-enriched uranium for fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor.

Mr Cooper insisted that the six powers remained committed to a “dual track” approach of sticks and carrots. “That implies that we will continue to seek a negotiated solution but consideration of appropriate further measures has also begun,” he told reporters.

However, China’s hardline stance led some to question its continued commitment to the “dual track” policy. Beijing now finds itself isolated in the six-power group as Russia reluctantly agreed that a new round of sanctions was necessary.

• Tehran has sentenced the former MP Mohsen Safai Farahani to six years in jail, opposition websites reported. The 61-year-old leader of Iran’s largest reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, was arrested after the disputed presidential election in June.

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