Russia raised concerns about proposals to extend UN sanctions against Iran to its elite Revolutionary Guards, while China warned that reducing credit to the Islamic country could punish the Iranian people for their government's nuclear defiance.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Russia, China, Britain and France - joined by Germany, met Friday for the fourth time this week to narrow differences over new sanctions against Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.
The proposals include a travel ban, an expanded list of people and companies subject to an asset freeze, an arms embargo and trade restrictions.
Russia and China, which have strong trade ties with Iran, are pushing for a narrower list of targeted companies and individuals. The two countries have often been at odds with the United States, Britain, France and Germany over how tough to be on Iran.
The United States is pushing for cutbacks on loan guarantees for companies doing business in Iran, a key sticking point for China.
China's "main difficulty is with the financial and the trade sanctions against Iran because we feel that we (should) not be punishing the Iranian people," Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters after the closed meeting. "We should punish the Iranians for their activities in the nuclear field."
While stressing that Iran must face stiffer sanctions, Russian Ambassador Vitali Churkin said there had been "a lot of attention and discussion to make sure the Iranian people are not punished."
"We went through the whole list of elements. There are some on which we are quite close, there are some on which there is some serious concerns and differences," Churkin said.
He declined to elaborate on the areas of disagreement. But Wang said Russia had raised concerns about specifically mentioning Iran's Revolutionary Guards in the list of entities subject to asset freezes.
The elite military corps, which has more than 200,000 members and its own naval and air forces, oversees vital Iranian interests, including oil and natural gas installations and the nation's missile arsenal. It is independent of the regular armed forces and controlled directly by Iran's supreme leader.
"Russia has difficulties with the name of the Revolutionary Guard because they feel it is an institution in Iran and you don't have to penalize an institution," Wang said.
Iran has refused to freeze its enrichment-related activities despite the Security Council's decision on Dec. 23 to impose sanctions. That resolution ordered all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs and to freeze assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to those programs.
Alejandro Wolff, the acting US representative to the United Nations, acknowledged that the scope of financial sanctions were "the main point of concern" in negotiations. But he insisted that no measures under discussion would punish the Iranian people.
"Frankly, any sense that this is designed to penalize the Iranian people is completely mistaken," he said. "This is an effort to put the focus on the government for being in noncompliance with the Security Council resolutions."
Iran insists its enrichment program is peaceful and aimed at producing nuclear energy, but the US and European countries are concerned its real aim is to produce nuclear weapons.
Churkin said the resolution would make "clear that the international community does not approve of movement in the Iranian nuclear program which we have been seeing."
He and Wolff said they were optimistic the Security Council would approve a resolution next week, though Wang said he thought that was unlikely.
There was less friction over a proposal to ban Iran from exporting weapons. Wang said China wanted the banned weapons defined according to the seven categories in the UN register on conventional arms: battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles.
"The Chinese view is that we have to focus on the nuclear and missile area but since they see a need to expand it to arms embargo then China would define it in the seven categories of arms in the UN registrate," Wang said.
Wolff said "there is little logic in allowing and encouraging" Iran to sell arms to finance its nuclear activities.