Imposing tougher sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program is a poor idea while diplomatic negotiations remain possible, Zhang Yesui, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, said Tuesday.
“Sanctions themselves are not an end,” Zhang said at a news conference to observe China’s assumption of the presidency of the Security Council for January.
Efforts to reach an accord with Iran over its nuclear ambitions need “some more time and patience,” he said, noting that senior political officials from the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany were expected to meet in the coming weeks to discuss the next steps.
Zhang said remarks by Iranian officials over the past few days indicated their interest in finding a diplomatic resolution. “This also represents that there is more to happen in the area of talks,” he said.
China has long opposed using the Security Council to impose sanctions, particularly economic sanctions in countries where it has strong business interests. The Chinese buy about 15 percent of their oil from Iran.
State-run companies like the China National Petroleum Corp. have signed billions of dollars’ worth of deals to help Iran develop oil and gas fields and to expand its refining capacity.
China and Russia, which has also expressed reservations about new sanctions on Iran, supported three previous Security Council resolutions that authorized sanctions aimed at Iranian individuals and organizations involved in the nuclear effort. The sanctions were devised to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, which the government denies seeking.
The United States and many other Western nations suspect that Iran has been enriching uranium so that it can eventually create nuclear weapons. Iran insists that its nuclear program is intended to generate electricity and for other peaceful purposes.
Under a deal tentatively reached by negotiators in October, Iran would export much of its stock of enriched uranium abroad for processing to higher enrichment levels for use in a research reactor in Tehran. The accord appeared to be a major accomplishment for the West, reducing Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon quickly and buying more time for negotiations.
But the agreement stalled after Tehran’s negotiators in Geneva initially endorsed it. Western officials have expressed exasperation that Iran seems to alter its position repeatedly, its nuclear policy entangled in longstanding disputes among internal factions.
The Obama administration, supported by France and Britain, which like the United States are permanent Security Council members, had set the end of 2009 as a deadline for Iran either to reach a compromise or to face more sanctions. The United States still seeks to create a “dual-track approach” and to consult with other countries on both negotiations and sanctions, said Mark Kornblau, the spokesman for the United States Mission to the United Nations.
American and European officials have said that any new sanctions would probably be aimed at the Revolutionary Guards, which controls Iran’s nuclear program.