NEW YORK (Reuters) - China joined Russia and four other world powers on Thursday for what diplomats said were “constructive” but inconclusive talks on possible new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
“It’s a very constructive negotiation,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong told reporters after a nearly three-hour meeting with his counterparts from Russia, the United States, Britain, France and Germany.
He said the group planned to meet again next week. Details of the discussions were not immediately available, but diplomats familiar with talks said the delegations were far from agreement on a fourth round of U.N. sanctions on Iran.
After months of delay, China reluctantly agreed to join the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany — a group often referred to as the “P5-plus-one” — in New York to draft a sanctions resolution.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said earlier on Thursday Washington wants swift agreement on a draft resolution that can be sent to the full 15-nation Security Council for a vote.
“We are working to get this done swiftly, within a matter of weeks in the spring,” Rice said, reiterating a desire by U.S. President Barack Obama for a tougher global stance against Iran’s development of nuclear capabilities.
Li made clear China was committed to the group’s two-track approach on Iran’s nuclear program — offers of economic and political incentives if Tehran suspends its nuclear enrichment program, and threats of sanctions if it refuses. He reiterated that Beijing is more interested in pursuing the first track.
“The dual-track approach is actually focussed on diplomacy,” he said.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin predicted the sanctions negotiations “will be difficult.”
After Thursday’s meeting at the British U.N. mission, Rice described the meeting as “worthwhile” but declined to provide any details.
Churkin chided Iran for ignoring the various offers that the six had made to Tehran in an attempt to resolve the long-running standoff over a nuclear program the Islamic Republic says is peaceful but the United States and its allies suspect is aimed at producing weapons.
“If Iran wants to negotiate, they should start negotiating,” Churkin said, adding that the “aim of these negotiations is to bring Iran back to the negotiating table.”
Iran, a major oil and gas exporter, says its nuclear ambitions are limited to generating electricity and refuses to suspend its enrichment program. The Security Council has passed five resolutions ordering it stop enriching uranium.
A U.S. draft sanctions proposal agreed upon with the three European allies and passed on to Russia and China a month ago is the basis for discussions, U.N. diplomats say.
It targets the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and shipping and other firms but not Iran’s oil and gas sectors.
Although the U.S. and European delegations would like a resolution adopted this month, diplomats say negotiations could go on at least until June as China and Russia are expected to work to dilute any proposed punitive steps before handing a draft resolution to the Security Council.
The issue may also come up on the sidelines of Obama’s April 12-13 summit on nuclear security in Washington, which Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and dozens of other leaders plan to attend.
Editing by John O'Callaghan and Todd Eastham