China prefers diplomacy on Iran

Beijing signals it's willing to discuss sanctions, but eager to evade them.

April 1, 2010 11:50
Jalili in Japan

Jalili in Japan. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)


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China continues to seek a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday. He clarified China has agreed to hold serious discussion on a fresh round of sanctions. In effect, Gang was reacting to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's confirmation of a leak by two US officials claiming China was coming around on sanctions.

The Chinese spokesman announced Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend a summit on nuclear security in the United States this month. Hu would stop in Washington for the April 12-13 summit on his way to Brazil, Venezuela and Chile.

It had not been clear if Hu would attend the US-hosted event because of Chinese dissatisfaction over US arms sales to Taiwan and a meeting between President Barack Obama and exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili arrived in Beijing Thursday for talks with Chinese officials.

The Iranian negotiator will hold talks with senior Chinese officials "concerning the nuclear program," Iranian state television reported.

"The relationship between Iran and China is very important, and it is very important for our two countries to cooperate on all the issues," Jalili said after arriving in Beijing.

Will the US allow Israel to strike Iran's nuclear facilities?

Earlier Thursday Israel's Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev said the softened sanctions against Iran that are likely to be passed in cooperation with China won't make Teheran halt its uranium enrichment program.

"The sanctions being crafted won't prevent Iran from continuing to enrich uranium, though this does not preclude the possiblity some states will put in place more severe sanctions of their own," Shalev said Thursday morning on Army Radio.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany are unified on putting together new sanctions on Iran over its suspect nuclear program, US Secretary of State said Thursday.

On Wednesday two US officials said that in a phone call among officials from the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the Chinese representative said his country, long a holdout against fresh international penalties against Iran, was prepared to discuss specific potential sanctions.

Clinton did not elaborate but responding to a question about the information released by the two anonymous US officials, she said they had "accurately described" the position of the group known as "P5-plus-one."

"There will be a great deal of further consultation, not only among the P5-plus-one but other members of the Security Council and other member nations during the next weeks," she told reporters.

The Obama administration is hoping to get a UN resolution by the end of April. 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.

Earlier a US intelligence report updated Iran had both made gains and suffered setbacks in a nuclear program that gives Teheran the possibility of building nuclear weapons, even though it has not moved decisively toward that goal.

“We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, though we do not know whether Teheran eventually will decide to produce nuclear weapons,” states the Central Intelligence Agency report, provided to Congress by the office of the director of national intelligence and posted recently on the DNI Web site.

“Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so,” the report says.

Mathew Burrows, counselor to the US National Intelligence Council, told a Washington foreign press briefing that when it came to whether Teheran would move toward creating a nuclear bomb, the US intelligence agencies “continue to judge that Iran takes a cost-benefit approach in its nuclear decision-making. We judge that this offers the intelligence community – the international community – opportunities to influence Teheran’s decision-making.”

He did not specify what measures informed the decision-making process, but pointed to the US State Department as the agency working to influence that process.

In the meantime, he said, “we continue to assess that Iran has a scientific, technical and industrial capacity to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon in the next few years if it chooses to do so, and eventually to produce nuclear weapons. The central issue is a decision to do so.”

The assessment provided to Congress, which covers international efforts to acquire WMD and advanced conventional capabilities over the course of 2009, contrasts with that of the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, which judged that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program.

The controversial 2007 NIE findings contradicted Israeli and other estimates. A revised estimate is expected to come out in the near future.

The new assessment found that “Iran continued to expand its nuclear infrastructure and continued uranium enrichment and activities related to its heavy water research reactor.”

But it added, “Although Iran made progress in expanding its nuclear infrastructure during 2009, some obstacles slowed progress during this period.” The nature of the obstacles was not specified.

The report also noted Iranian progress in its ballistic missile program and its capability of producing chemical and potentially biological warfare agents.

The recent findings also addressed the continued nuclear ties between Iran, North Korea and Syria. It singled out Syria for having “engaged for more than a decade in a covert nuclear program with North Korean assistance.”

Noting that the reactor being built by that covert program had been destroyed in September 2007 – widely reported as having been done by Israel – and that Syria had gone to “great lengths to try to eradicate evidence of its existence,” the report labels Damascus “generally uncooperative” with international investigators.

“The covert nature of the program, the characteristics of the reactor, and Syria’s extreme efforts to deny and destroy evidence of the reactor after its destruction are inconsistent with peaceful nuclear applications,” the report states, adding that the country already had a stockpile of chemical warfare agents on hand.

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