VIENNA (Reuters) – Russia and China have been blocking tough U.N. sanctions against Iran, the United States said on Thursday, adding there would be a push to impose them if Iran did not halt nuclear activity within two weeks.
But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he was “not worried at all” about additional sanctions, dismissing them as ineffective.
Nicholas Burns, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, said China and Russia had been stalling a new United Nations Security Council resolution since late March.
The five permanent powers on the U.N. Security Council plus Germany will meet in London on Friday to weigh broader sanctions. Increased saber-rattling between Iran and Washington is stirring fears of war if diplomatic pressure fails.
Burns, speaking before talks in Vienna with the U.N. nuclear watchdog chief, said Iran had been given a grace period since the last U.N resolution on March 24.
“Russia and China have been effectively blocking a third resolution since then,” he told reporters. Moscow and Beijing, two of the five veto-holders on the Council and major trade partners of Iran, have insisted on more time for diplomacy.
Western powers agreed in September to put off seeking harsher sanctions after a pledge from Iran to clarify past secrets of its nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
The IAEA will issue a report in mid-November, but Burns said a clean bill of health from the IAEA alone would not be enough to halt steps to stiffer economic sanctions.
“Our judgment is that if Iran has not suspended in the next couple of weeks, that’s not sufficient, it will remain a refusal to meet Security Council requirements. That will be a highly relevant factor for us,” he said.
“Our hope is the following: first, a third sanctions resolution will be passed as soon as possible. Second, we’d very much support seeing the EU go forward with (its own) sanctions. Third, major trading partners of Iran should reduce trade to show Iran that this is not business as usual.”
Iran warned the United States on Wednesday it would find itself in a “quagmire deeper than Iraq” if it attacked the Islamic state.
Tension over Iran’s nuclear activities is one of the factors that have pushed oil prices to record highs of over $90 a barrels in recent days.
President Ahmadinejad, who often rails against the West, said on Thursday his country would respond to any hostile action, but did not say how.
He suggested new U.S. sanctions announced last week would mainly hurt European countries still doing business with Iran, which has major oil and gas reserves.
“The weapon of sanctions does not work,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech inaugurating a petrochemical plant on Iran’s Gulf coast. “We are not worried at all.”
U.S. President George W. Bush has suggested a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War Three. Washington says it wants a diplomatic solution but Burns said on Wednesday more “tough-minded diplomacy” was needed to make that work.
He said this should include European sanctions on Iran, which some large EU members are reluctant to pursue.
Russia says dialogue rather than punishment or talk of military action offers the best way to ease tension over Iran.