Major powers reach no deal on new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

NEW YORK -- Top diplomats from six key powers focused on possible new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program at a meeting Saturday but reached no agreement, diplomats said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the six nations want to meet again with Iran to discuss their October proposal that Tehran exchange uranium for nuclear fuel. But Robert Cooper, a senior European Union official, said, "We will continue to seek a negotiated solution, but consideration of appropriate further measures has also begun."

The United States pushed for new sanctions against Iran at Saturday's meeting, held at the E.U. offices in New York. Officials from China, Britain, France and Germany also took part in the meeting.

But in a sign of division over the next steps, China sent only a low-level diplomat to the meeting, which was scheduled for senior Foreign Ministry officials. The other five nations sent top officials with decision-making authority.

China's virtual snub has caused consternation among the four Western powers in the group, which had hoped to use the meeting to reach an agreement on whether to begin drafting a Security Council resolution on a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran.

Diplomats speculated that China's move might have been intended to illustrate its resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or its dismay at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade province.

"There's not much point in having the meeting in light of the Chinese representation, but we're going to have it," a diplomat from one of the six countries said before the session. "We need to send a message to Iran that we're not dropping this issue."

After weeks of conflicting responses, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in mid-December accepted the proposed exchange of uranium for nuclear fuel "in principle." But in a likely deal breaker, he spoke of exchanging the material in phases rather than all at once, as called for in the plan.

China's U.N. ambassador, Zhang Yesui, whose country assumed the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, said Beijing opposes new sanctions against Iran for now because of ongoing diplomatic efforts to bridge differences over its nuclear program.

Ryabkov said Russia thinks that there is "still time for meaningful political engagement and efforts to find a solution."

The Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran over suspicions that it is hiding nuclear activities and fears that it could retool its enrichment program, which makes low-grade uranium to generate nuclear power, to produce weapons-grade uranium used for nuclear warheads. Iran denies the accusation and insists its program is for peaceful purposes.


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