China, Britain diverge on Iran nuclear sanctions

BEIJING/UNITED NATIONS Thu Sep 24, 2009 5:40pm EDT

BEIJING/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - China dampened expectations of further sanctions on Iran on Thursday, telling other major powers that more pressure would not persuade Tehran to halt its nuclear program.

In contrast, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the U.N. Security Council the world should consider "far tougher sanctions" if Iran continues to seek a nuclear weapon.

Both countries signed a letter on Wednesday in which the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany told Iran to prepare a "serious response" by October 1 to demands that it halt its nuclear program, or face the consequences.

Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are the permanent members of the 15-nation Security Council.

"As evidence of its breach of international agreements grows, we must now consider far tougher sanctions together," Brown told a council meeting on nuclear proliferation chaired by U.S. President Barack Obama.

At the end of the two-hour session, council members unanimously approved a resolution calling for an end to the proliferation of atomic weapons but did not name Iran or North Korea, which is also in a standoff over its nuclear program.

The U.S.-drafted resolution called for further efforts to achieve "a world without nuclear weapons" and all urged countries to sign the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Obama said he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed this week that additional U.N. sanctions would be considered if Iran doesn't respond to proposals to end the nuclear standoff.

"We'll be particularly telling Iran it's got a decision to make," Brown told the BBC before the council meeting. "It can work with the international community. We can help it get civil nuclear power, but if it persists with this course, it's going to be isolated from the whole international community."

The West suspects Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing atomic weapons. Iran insists it is limited to the peaceful generation of electricity and has rejected Security Council demands that it suspend sensitive nuclear activities.

CHINA OPPOSES SANCTIONS

French President Nicolas Sarkozy told the U.N. forum he favored dialogue with Tehran, but time for talk was limited. "There comes a time when stubborn facts will compel us to take a decision if we want a world without nuclear weapons."

China, which imports large amounts of crude oil from Iran and has been ambivalent about bringing international pressure to bear on other nations, signaled remained uneasy with a heavy-handed approach.

"We believe that sanctions and exerting pressure are not the way to solve problems and are not conducive for the current diplomatic efforts on the Iran nuclear issue," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a news briefing in Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi also repeated China's stance that the issue of Iran's nuclear program was best resolved peacefully through dialogue.

Foreign ministers from the six nations who signed the letter to Tehran on Wednesday met at the United Nations to continue discussion about Iran.

Iran's U.N. mission said the Islamic Republic was open to "serious and constructive negotiations" with all parties but insisted that "futile and illegal demands" be dropped.

In Vienna, the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency has been urging Iran to explain Western intelligence reports suggesting it has conducted research into building a nuclear warhead. Iran says the intelligence is fabricated.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not directly mention the nuclear issue in his U.N. address Wednesday.

On Thursday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the West of plotting against the Islamic Republic, but he also said the possibility of military conflict was very low.

An exiled Iranian opposition group said it had identified two previously unknown sites where Iran is working on developing high-explosive detonators for use in atomic bombs.

The Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran said the sites were part of a unit affiliated with Iran's ministry of defense called "Research Center for Explosion and Impact."

The group's information could not be verified.

The NCRI, with thousands of followers in Europe and the United States, exposed Iranian uranium enrichment research in 2002. Its subsequent record on reporting Iranian nuclear activity has been spotty.

(Additional reporting by Lou Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi at the UNITED NATIONS; James Mackenzie in Paris, Mark Heinrich in Vienna, Adrian Croft in London and Tehran bureau; Writing by Samia Nakhoul and Todd Eastham; editing by Doina Chiacu)

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