(photo credit: AP)
PARIS — French President Nicolas Sarkozy will head to Beijing Wednesday with hopes of getting Chinese backing for further sanctions against Iran — but Chinese President Hu Jintao may have different ideas.
The leaders, whose countries hold two of the five permanent UN Security Council seats, are due to discuss Iran, among other issues, at the start of Sarkozy's three-day state visit to China.
Three permanent council members — France, Britain and the US — have been pressing for a fourth round of UN penalties on Iran for its refusal to halt a key part of its nuclear program that could be used to make weapons. Iran says it only wants the technology for producing nuclear power.
China and Russia — which also has a permanent seat — both have important commercial links to Iran and have been reluctant to support new sanctions.
"Talks are continuing," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero at a news conference Tuesday. "France is hoping to quickly arrive at a result."Talks come at key moment - but is France unrealistic?
A French official, who declined to be named in line with government policy, said talks with China come at a "key moment," amid growing diplomatic efforts for a new sanctions resolution.
But analysts said France may be being unrealistic.
"I don't see any room for convergence," said Willem van Kemenade, an independent China analyst who studies the country's relationship with Iran.
China has agreed to talk about a new round of sanctions. It went along with three previous rounds of sanctions against Iran only because they had no teeth, and China will only go along with sanctions this time if they are "token, soft," van Kemenade said.
China depends on oil- and gas-rich Iran for 11 percent of its energy needs and last year became Teheran's biggest trading partner, according to Iranian figures.
France has been demanding "the strongest possible sanctions" this time against Iran.
Another French official said that China was similarly reluctant to
support the previous round of UN sanctions against Iran, but agreed at
the last minute to support it.
While China is publicly keeping its distance from a fourth set of
sanctions, France is banking that China will again swing around at the
last moment, the official said. The official spoke on condition of
anonymity because the talks on sanctions are behind closed doors and
Sarkozy's visit to China, beyond the Iran talks, is being billed as a
return to healthy diplomatic relations after spats over Tibet.
Relations with China nose-dived in 2008 after protests by exiled
Tibetans and other activists during the Olympic torch's passage through
Paris and Sarkozy's talks with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the