Under Pressure, China Agrees to Meeting on Iran Sanctions

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2007; 6:58 PM

Under intense international pressure, China late today reluctantly agreed to attend a meeting with the world's major powerson Iran's nuclear program after earlier refusing to take part.

Beijing's initial position had threatened to force cancellation of a critical meeting to debate new sanctions that the Bush administration hopes to impose on Iran through the United Nations, U.S. and European diplomats said today.

The meeting is tentatively scheduled to be held the week after Thanksgiving. The Bush administration has been pressing the world body to act because Iran has failed to suspend uranium enrichment -- a process that can be used for a peaceful energy program as well as to develop atomic weapons.

China's reversal followed unusually blunt language from the State Department, which yesterday called on Beijing to be more "resolute" after the U.N. nuclear watchdog organization said in a new report that Iran had provided some help with information about its previously secret nuclear program, but that data on its current efforts had been "diminishing" since 2006.

"We need China to join the effort and agree to have the next meeting," Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said in an interview yesterday. "We're concerned that China's trade has increased significantly with Iran. It's incongruous for China to continue to sell arms to Iran and become Iran's top trade partner. We've advised the Chinese to take a much more resolute role."

After a meeting at the White House today, President Bush said he and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda had agreed that "a nuclear armed Iran would threaten the security of the Middle East and beyond."

The United States and its closest ally in Asia "are united in our efforts to change the regime's behavior through diplomacy," Bush told reporters. "We agreed that unless Iran commits to suspend enrichment, international pressure must and will grow."

Fukuda, making his first visit to Washington since he became prime minister in September, said through an interpreter, "With regard to Iranian nuclear development, we can never tolerate. And we agreed that we shall, together, work to raise pressure with the international community so that Iran will comply with the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions."

The two also discussed six-party talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Bush said the talks "have delivered measurable results" and that "plutonium production facilities at Yongbyon are now being disabled under six-party supervision."

Bush added, "Hard work still remains to be done. North Korea has agreed to provide a full declaration of all its nuclear programs and proliferation activities by the end of this year."

In a critically timed assessment, the International Atomic Energy Agency yesterday said that Iran provided "timely" and helpful new information on a secret nuclear program that became public in 2002. But it said Iran did not fully answer questions about the program or allow full access to Iranian personnel. Iran is even less cooperative on its current program, the IAEA reported.

"Since early 2006, the agency has not received the type of information that Iran had previously been providing," the IAEA concluded. "The agency's knowledge about Iran's current nuclear program is diminishing."

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