AFP: US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao have agreed to jointly push for new nuclear sanctions on Iran, US officials said, heralding an apparent diplomatic breakthrough. By Stephen Collinson
WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao have agreed to jointly push for new nuclear sanctions on Iran, US officials said, heralding an apparent diplomatic breakthrough.
Injecting momentum into the drive to punish Tehran, Hu and Obama Monday instructed their delegations at the United Nations to work together on a draft resolution, the officials said, as Obama seeks to enact toughened sanctions within weeks.
Hu's entourage was less specific after the talks, but said that the United States and China shared the "same overall goal" on Iran, after months of US efforts to secure Chinese cooperation on "biting" new sanctions.
The new Sino-US unity followed a swift warming of relations, after multiple rows and Beijing's previous reluctance to contemplate new sanctions on Iran.
"The Chinese very clearly share our concern about the Iranian nuclear program," said Jeff Bader, Obama's senior director for Asia on the National Security Council.
"The two presidents agreed the two delegations should work together on a sanctions resolution in New York," Bader said, after the two presidents met ahead of a 47-nation nuclear security summit in Washington.
Ma Zhaoxu, spokesman for the Chinese delegation, reiterated that even as China joins talks at the UN, it also wanted a stalled dialogue between world powers and Iran to go on, in an effort to resolve the confrontation.
Washington and its allies say Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons, a claim Iran denies.
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.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, signaled after flying in for the summit that the time for drawn out diplomacy had passed.
"Patience has its limits," Sarkozy told CBS, arguing the time had come for a vote on sanctions.
Sarkozy also said that a united Security Council would be the best course — but warned a "toothless" resolution agreed just so the world could speak with one voice would achieve nothing.
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 aired Monday 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.
"Sanctions should not be paralyzing. They should not cause suffering."
There was a note of dissent however from Brazil, which has irritated Washington, with its stance on Iran sanctions.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Minister Celso Amorim called for more dialogue before imposing sanctions.
"The main issue now is to give a minimum of time for a conversation to take place" between Iran and Western powers that want to apply more stringent sanctions, Amorim said on the sidelines of the summit.
Iran has become increasingly defiant, as Russia and China — veto-wielding members of the Security Council — have moved towards the US position.
Iran, along with North Korea, was not invited to the summit, and says it won't be bound by any decisions made here.
Tehran's ambassador to the UN on Monday issued a blazing condemnation of a new US nuclear policy unveiled by Obama, which limits the prospective use of the American arsenal but does not rule out last resort strikes on Iran.
"Can the US new nuclear strategy which authorizes the use of nuclear bomb against other countries, including Iran, be named other than 'state terrorism,' in its truest sense?" Mohammad Khazaee told a General Assembly panel.
Monday's meeting also appeared to show a thaw in the previously rather formal ties that officials said had previously existed between Obama and Hu.
"It was a meeting without talking points — a conversation between two leaders who are familiar and comfortable talking with each other about bilateral relations and where they stand," Bader said.
Ma described Monday's talks as "candid" and "cordial," adding it was "a positive and constructive meeting."
A Sino-US chill set in after Obama visited Beijing last November, over issues including the yuan, trade, a US arms package for nationalist Taiwan, the US leader's talks with the Dalai Lama and Internet freedom.