China has pulled out of a meeting to discuss new sanctions on Iran, European diplomats said on Friday, highlighting the obstacles western powers, specially the US, face in their quest to increase pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program. The US had wanted to agree a set of prospective measures by the end of this month, which could be quickly taken to the United Nations Security Council if Iran failed to comply with Washington’s demands to rein in its nuclear program.
But China’s decision not to participate in the scheduled meeting next week of political directors from the Security Council’s five permanent members, plus Germany, means that no such agreement is likely to be in place by that time. The meeting is now unlikely to take place next week.
“It’s pretty well understood why the Chinese have postponed,” said a British official. “It was a mixture of genuine diary difficulties coupled with the track record of resistance on their part to moving swiftly towards an outcome.”
This comes despite an agreement among the big powers in September to “finalize a text” on new sanctions and bring it to a vote at the Security Council, unless two international reports assessed that Iran had made progress in resolving ambiguous issues about its past nuclear activities.
The first of those reports, by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said this week Iran had provided new information about the nuclear program’s past. The report also said that it has found Iran truthful about key aspects of its past nuclear activities, meaning that the main points of ambiguities have been removed.
Many countries have changed or softened stance on the issue following the release of ElBaradei’s report.
The second report, by Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, is due this month.
“If both reports show that there is no progress or political outcome then we are going for a further resolution,” said a French official.
However, China and Russia have consistently been reluctant to impose additional sanctions on Tehran, and have instead encouraged Mr. ElBaradei in his efforts to broker a deal with Iran to resolve the nuclear case through peaceful and diplomatic means.
On Friday, some diplomats said that without further progress, the US and the EU could seek to take a new resolution to the Security Council before securing the backing of Moscow and Beijing – a high risk approach.
Britain and France also face difficulties in persuading the EU to agree sanctions, because of reservations among Germany, Spain and Italy about proceeding with unilateral steps that go beyond UN sanctions.