Nations agree to pursue Iran sanctions

March 31, 2010 3:46:45 PM PDT
Six major world powers have agreed to begin putting together proposed new sanctions on Iran over its suspect nuclear program after China dropped its opposition, U.S. officials said Wednesday. China, long a holdout against fresh international penalties against Iran, signaled its willingness Wednesday to consider a U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution, two U.S. government officials said.

That would appear to improve prospects for passing a resolution aimed at increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran to scale back its nuclear ambitions, which Tehran insists are limited to developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

In another sign of movement on the Chinese front, Iran's state media reported Wednesday that the country's top nuclear negotiator will travel to Beijing to discuss possible U.N. sanctions. Iranian state television said Saeed Jalili will hold talks Thursday with senior Chinese officials "concerning the nuclear program."

President Barack Obama had said Tuesday he hoped to have Iran sanctions in place within weeks -- a timetable that appeared highly ambitious given China's reluctance to even discuss specific sanctions.

On Wednesday, however, two U.S. officials said that in a phone call among officials from the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France -- plus Germany, the Chinese representative said his country was prepared to discuss specific potential sanctions.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the diplomatic talks are ongoing.

One of the officials said China had made a "commitment" to discuss the specifics of a 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 yet a full consensus on U.N. sanctions.

The Obama administration is hoping to get a U.N. resolution by the end of April. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has not publicly cited a specific timetable but in recent days has sounded more optimistic about the chances of getting China to agree that new penalties are needed to force Iran's hand.

"We see a growing awareness on the part of many countries, including China, as to the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran to regional and global stability, to our oil supply, and we think that there will be a consensus reached as to the best way forward," Clinton told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking to reporters after meeting with Obama at the White House on Tuesday, said Washington and Paris were "inseparable" in their thinking on the subject of Iran sanctions.

"Iran cannot continue its mad race" toward acquiring nuclear weapons," Sarkozy said. "The time has come to take decisions."