LONDON (AFP) – The United States, following crunch talks in London, geared up for tough negotiations with other world powers over a draft UN resolution to impose sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.
Senior US official Nicholas Burns said the five permanent UN Security Council members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France — plus Germany would start drafting next week a sanctions resolution.
However, he conceded that the tough part would be deciding the extent of punitive measures following the talks here that involved US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and top diplomats from the five other nations.
In a statement issued by host Britain, the group agreed to discuss sanctions and lamented Tehran’s refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, but insisted that the door remains open to negotiations if Tehran were to back down.
Burns, the US under secretary of state for political affairs, said that work on a new Security Council resolution under Article 41 of the UN charter, which allows for diplomatic and economic sanctions, would start next week.
It would probably kick off Tuesday or Wednesday with a video conference involving him and his five counterparts before it is pursued a day later at the level of the ambassadors at the United Nations of the six powers, he added.
“I am quite confident that we are now heading towards a sanctions resolution,” Burns told BBC radio on Saturday.
“There will be tough negotiations ahead to define the specific nature of those sanctions. This is always a complex business.”
He could not give an estimate of how long the talks would last.
Burns played down suggestions that Russia and China remain reluctant to pursue sanctions against Iran, despite its refusal to comply with an earlier Security Council resolution calling on Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.
“It is very clear that this group of countries is united,” Burns said. “The Iranians believed, apparently, that they could divide this group. They haven’t succeeded in doing that.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country has balked at US-led calls for sanctions on Tehran, reiterated after the talks here Friday that the standoff still could be resolved through negotiations.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, who chaired the talks, also cautioned that the sanctions debate “will require a great deal of work and understanding.”
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said “the door to dialogue will remain open,” allowing for the Islamic republic to back down.
“We decided in unison to work together in the coming days” on “sanctions which are proportionate and reversible,” he said.
Washington has long led charges that Iran’s nuclear program is a covert grab for atomic weapons, something that Tehran has hotly denied. Tehran argues that the nuclear program is purely for civilian energy purposes.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has held a series of talks with Iranian negotiators in recent months in order to get them to consider EU trade proposals in exchange for halting nuclear enrichment, but pressure for an accord intensified after Iran failed to meet a UN deadline by August 31.
Rice has said the United States wants a graduated series of sanctions, to be implemented through multiple UN resolutions that would ramp up pressure on Iran if it persists with its nuclear program.
The first set of measures is expected to focus on preventing the supply of material and funding for Iran’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes.
Other steps could include asset freezes and travel bans on officials linked to possible Iranian weapons programmes.
Expectations for the London meeting had been low, partly because a technical problem with Rice’s plane in northern Iraq made her late for the meeting here, but US officials said they were “very pleased and gratified” by the outcome.
China, the only country not represented at the ministerial level here, was represented by Zhang Yan, an armament expert.