UNITED NATIONS, (AP) – After months of diplomatic dancing, China has agreed to sit down with five major powers Thursday to discuss possible new sanctions against Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment and start talks on its suspect nuclear program.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a French parliamentary hearing on Wednesday that China would join the United States, Britain, Russia, France — all veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council — and Germany for talks on a fourth U.N. sanctions resolution.
China agreed to discuss possible new sanctions during a phone conversation in late March with senior diplomats from the five other countries but no date had been set for the start of the discussions.
Kouchner said the Chinese participation on Thursday is a “positive factor,” according to the ministry.
He did not give any details and China’s Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley would not confirm Thursday’s meeting, saying there will be discussions in coming days in several locations and “I’m not going to sit here and advertise every single meeting that takes place.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in January that the Obama administration has concluded that the best way to pressure Iran to come clean on its nuclear ambitions is to impose new sanctions aimed at the country’s ruling elite.
Ambassadors from the six countries will be discussing elements for a possible U.N. resolution circulated by the United States which well-informed diplomats said will target Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, which has major interests in nuclear proliferation activities.
The proposed new sanctions would also toughen existing measures against Iran’s shipping, banking and insurance sectors and target additional companies and individuals connected to its nuclear program, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the U.S. proposal has not been released publicly.
The negotiations on a fourth sanctions resolution will mark a departure from negotiations on the three previous sanctions resolutions.
Political directors from the six countries, who are high-ranking diplomats, agreed on the outlines of the first three resolutions before negotiations moved to the United Nations where ambassadors hammered out the final text. This time, the political directors are leaving the negotiations to the ambassadors.
Whether this will speed agreement — as the U.S. and others are pressing for — remains to be seen.
If negotiations get tough, political directors, foreign ministers and leaders of the six countries may still be called on to try to find solutions.
Once the six countries agree on a text, it must then be presented to the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council for further negotiations. Several have already indicated their opposition to sanctions, including Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon.
There is no deadline for a new resolution, but some countries would like to vote on a new sanctions resolution before the start of a major conference at U.N. headquarters in early May to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
China, which relies on Iran for 11 percent of its energy needs and last year became Tehran’s biggest trading partner, according to Iranian figures, traditionally opposes sanctions, but it went along with the first three sanctions resolutions.
Beijing has said it opposes nuclear weapons for Iran but supports an Iranian civilian nuclear energy program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reported recently that Tehran may be making nuclear bombs. But Iran insists its nuclear program is aimed solely at producing nuclear energy and is purely peaceful.
Both China and Russia have repeatedly said they believe there is still room for negotiations with Iran.