Tuesday, April 25, 2006

China blocks proposed Iran resolution

China, which has veto power in the UN Security Council, rejected on Tuesday a US proposal to order Iran to suspend uranium enrichment work under legally binding provisions of the United Nations Charter.

With China and Russia opposed to sanctions against Iran, the West wants to ratchet up pressure gradually to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions after a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, due on Friday.

As a first step, Western powers want a Security Council resolution that would turn demands in an earlier council statement on Iran into a legally binding measure under the Chapter 7 provision of the UN Charter.

But China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters, "It has always been China's position that this Iranian nuclear issue has to be solved diplomatically."

"Therefore I think any resolution based on Chapter 7 will not serve the purpose in this regard," Wang said. READ MORE

The Security Council passed a statement last month asking IAEA Director-General Mohamed El Baradei to report simultaneously to the council and the IAEA board of governors by April 28 on whether Iran has halted enriching uranium, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear warheads.

The council's statement was based on earlier resolutions by the 35-nation IAEA board.

"We believe the next step is a Chapter 7 resolution making mandatory the existing IAEA resolutions," said US Ambassador John Bolton.

Invoking Chapter 7 makes a UN resolution binding under international law. Chapter 7 also allows for sanctions or even war, but a resolution would be required to specify either step.

A council diplomat, who asked not to be named, said the United States, Britain and France were trying to reassure Russia and China that the resolution in question "does not do more than it says."

But to Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a former UN ambassador, Chapter 7 invokes Security Council resolutions against Iraq, interpreted by the United States as a legal basis for the 2003 invasion.

However, UN resolutions against Saddam Hussein's government stretched over a decade, starting with the 1991 Gulf War and involving cease-fire breaches.

IAEA Meeting Before Council?

While Bolton said the five permanent Security Council members - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - who have veto power would begin meeting this week, Wang questioned whether the issue belonged in the council.

Wang said a request had been made by nations he did not identify that the "IAEA board of governors has to meet before the council meeting" on the report from El Baradei.

In Berlin, a European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia and China wanted to emphasise the primacy of the Vienna-based IAEA board.

The envoy, who was not authorised to speak to reporters, said the aim was to delay UN action until after an IAEA board meeting in June to slow down any US drive for sanctions.

Wang also said it was premature to contemplate a resolution before senior foreign ministry officials from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany met in Paris on May 2.

The United States and its allies suspect Iran is trying to build an atomic bomb under cover of a civilian nuclear program. Tehran says its program is for energy purposes only.