Russia and China ‘stay committed’ on Tehran

Western powers on Thursday held out hope that China and Russia would agree to sanctions against Tehran should it fail to rein in its nuclear programme despite often voiced doubts from Beijing and Moscow.

A senior European diplomat said the two countries “remained committed” in principle to a UN Security Council resolution adopted earlier this year that foresees steps towards economic measures against Iran if Tehran fails to suspend uranium enrichment.

The diplomat, who attended talks in Berlin on Thursday involving envoys from six world powers, said: “No country has changed its position.”

The talks, involving foreign ministry political directors from Germany and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Russia, China, the US, France and Britain – came after Iran refused to meet a deadline of August 31 to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can generate both nuclear fuel and weapons grade material.

Russia and China, which have strong economic ties to Iran, have in the past been resistant to moving swiftly towards sanctions.

The European diplomat said it was significant the six countries remained united on the possibility of “political and economic measures” against Iran. “The meeting was productive” and would not have been if such unity had not been preserved, the envoy said.

The issue will return to the Security Council later this month, the diplomat added. But the envoy noted that Thursday’s meeting was only a “first discussion”, adding that differences existed on the nature and speed of steps towards sanctions.

Russian and Chinese diplomats in Berlin were not immediately available for comment but earlier on Thursday both countries stressed the nuclear dispute with Iran should be resolved by dialogue.

US President George W. Bush said last week that Iran should face “consequences” for ignoring the August 31 deadline, and Washington is pushing for agreement among the six powers by late September.

Javier Solana, European Union foreign policy chief, said on Thursday he would meet Ali Larijani, Iran’s nuclear envoy, for talks tomorrow. The meeting, in Vienna, is aimed at avoiding the move towards UN sanctions, diplomats said on Thursday.

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