By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 6, 2010; A07
UNITED NATIONS -- China's envoy to the United Nations said Tuesday that his government is not ready to impose tough new sanctions on Iran for defying the world body's demands that it suspend its uranium enrichment program.
"This is not the right time or right moment for sanctions, because the diplomatic efforts are still going on," Zhang Yesui said at a news briefing as China assumed the rotating monthly presidency of the U.N. Security Council.
The Chinese remarks underscore the challenges the United States faces in rallying international backing for its effort to punish Iran for nuclear violations. The Obama administration has been preparing a package of targeted sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard Corps and other Iranian institutions it deems responsible for acquiring nuclear and ballistic-missile technology.
"It's no secret that China and the United States look at the utility of sanctions differently," said P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the State Department.
He said U.S. officials would keep pressing other countries to impose "additional sanctions" on Iran's ruling elite, but he added, "We want to do this in a way that can target specific entities within the Iranian government but not punish the Iranian people, who are clearly looking for a different relationship with their government."
U.S. and European diplomats have acknowledged that China and Russia are likely to approve only the mildest of new sanctions. One Security Council envoy said the United States and its Western allies are planning to unveil a second round of their own sanctions against Iranian officials, including some responsible for the violent post-election crackdown on opposition movements.
Council diplomats say that China, which is expanding its commercial ties with Iran, has hardened its resistance to sanctions in recent months. Last month, it declined to attend a meeting on the nuclear crisis with the council's four other veto-wielding powers -- the United States, Russia, Britain and France -- as well as Germany, citing a scheduling conflict, one of the diplomats said.
But Zhang said Tuesday that China will meet with those countries this month to plan a response to Iran's refusal to accept a package of trade and other incentives in exchange for expanded outside scrutiny of its nuclear program. Such efforts, he said, require "more time and patience."