BEIJING (AP) – Tehran’s top nuclear envoy called for negotiations without threat of sanctions on Friday, following meetings in Beijing in the wake of U.S. reports saying had China had dropped its opposition to possible new U.N. measures against Iran.
Saeed Jalili sidestepped questions on whether China had confirmed to him that it had changed its opposition to a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran for its nuclear program. He maintained that both Iran and China sought a return to the negotiating table.
“(Our) Chinese friends all say this problem can only be solved through negotiations and peaceful means. And some big countries should give up their incorrect actions. Pressuring through sanctions will be ineffective,” Jalili said.
China has veto power in the U.N. Security Council, and its support would be key to passing a resolution against Iran, which is suspected of developing nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful power generation. “Negotiations should be conducted with logic, not with pressure. If negotiations and pressure occur at the same time, there’s no way these negotiations can go forward,” Jalili said in comments that were translated from Farsi to Chinese.
During his visit to China, Jalili met with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Wang Jiarui, who heads the Communist Party’s international affairs office.
China has refused to confirm reports that it was willing to consider new sanctions. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday that Beijing was “concerned about the current situation” but repeated the country’s longtime stance of wanting the dispute settled through negotiations.
U.S. President Barack Obama raised the issue of Iran’s nuclear program when he spoke on the phone for an hour Friday with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, welcoming his decision to attend a nuclear security summit in Washington in less than two weeks.
“Obama underscored the importance of working together to ensure that Iran lives up to its international obligations,” a White House statement said. China depends on oil- and gas-rich Iran for 11 percent of its energy needs and last year became Tehran’s biggest trading partner, according to Iranian figures. China traditionally opposes sanctions. Although it went along with three earlier U.N. sanctions resolutions against Iran, Beijing has been a vocal opponent of a fourth round, insisting that further negotiations with Tehran were needed.
But U.S. officials say a Chinese representative made a commitment in a phone call Wednesday with officials of the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to discuss specifics of a potential Security Council resolution, and that on that basis the U.S. would press ahead with an effort to pass such a measure.
The officials cautioned that this does not mean there is a full consensus yet on U.N. sanctions. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the diplomatic talks were ongoing.
The Obama administration is hoping to get a U.N. resolution on Iran passed by the end of April. According to well-informed U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions are taking place among capitals, the proposed new sanctions would target Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard and toughen existing measures against Iran’s shipping, banking and insurance sectors.