China blocks Iran sanctions over its nuclear plans


CHINA HAS blocked western efforts to impose a fresh round of UN sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, saying diplomatic efforts to stop Tehran building atomic weapons are ongoing.

Envoy Zhang Yesui laid out China’s case as his country took over the presidency of the Security Council and called for “time and patience” in dealings with Iran.

Tehran already has been hit with three rounds of sanctions for refusing to comply with demands that it halt sensitive nuclear activities and US president Barack Obama and other western powers want a fourth raft of sanctions to raise the pressure. China and Russia are resisting these efforts.

“This is not the right time or right moment for sanctions because the diplomatic efforts are still going on,” Mr Zhang said in New York.

Senior foreign ministry officials from China, Russia, the US, Britain, France and Germany would meet later this month to discuss Iran’s nuclear activities, which western powers suspect are aimed at developing nuclear weapons, not generating electricity as Tehran insists.

“The efforts aimed at diplomatic negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue still need some time and patience,” said Mr Zhang.

Sanctions so far are focused on Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes, imposing asset freezes and travel bans on individuals and firms linked to them, including banks that provide financing.

China is a veto-wielding member of the council and tends to vote against using tougher sanctions as long as it can engage in dialogue, even if the round-table discussions seem to be going on endlessly. For a long time it vetoed sanctions on its ally North Korea, which is also building nuclear capabilities despite international opposition, although Beijing has taken a tougher line on Pyongyang of late.

Beijing has not scheduled a meeting on Iran’s nuclear ambitions during its one-month presidency, which will delay efforts to turn Iran on the nuclear issue.

Mr Obama has taken a more conciliatory approach with Iran than his predecessor George W Bush, promising better ties with the US if Tehran agrees to suspend its nuclear programme. Mr Obama had called on Iran to respond to his offer by the end of 2009, but Tehran ignored the deadline.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Beijing has been forging closer ties with Iran of late and it already has plenty of lucrative links with Tehran, as does Moscow.

The US state department’s terse response was not without optimism. “This is not a static situation,” said spokesman PJ Crowley, adding that “views can change”.