UNITED NATIONS Six world powers, including China, agreed on Wednesday to start drawing up new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program in the next few days, diplomatic sources with knowledge of the talks said.
The diplomats said that senior foreign ministry officials from Britain, the United States, France, Russia and Germany had reached agreement with China during a conference call.
"It has been agreed with China to start drawing up sanctions on Iran," an envoy said. "Drawing up of a Security Council resolution is to begin in the next few days."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in New York for a donor conference on Haiti, said the group of six nations "continues to be unified."
"There will be a great deal of further consultation not only among the (six), but other members of the Security Council and other member nations during the next weeks," she added.
The Western powers in the group hope to organize a meeting of the six at the ambassadorial level in New York in the coming days to get the process of drafting a sanctions resolution going, several diplomats said.
The basis for negotiations, diplomats said, will be a U.S. proposal for sanctions that Washington agreed with its three European allies and passed on to Russia and China around a month ago.
Russia, like China, reluctantly backed three previous rounds of U.N. sanctions against Tehran for refusing to halt enrichment as demanded by five Security Council resolutions. Iran rejects Western charges that its atomic program is aimed at developing bombs and says enrichment is a sovereign right.
Tehran insists its nuclear program is intended only to peacefully generate electricity.
Diplomats say China has been slowly and reluctantly falling in line with the other powers involved in the negotiations on Iran by backing the idea of new U.N. sanctions against Tehran, though Beijing, like Moscow, wants any new steps to be weak.
They say the four Western powers would like a resolution to be adopted next month, before a month-long U.N. conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in May, but acknowledge that negotiations could drag on at least until June.
"This is a big victory for the United States and the Europeans," said a diplomat. "China has taken great strides."
CHINA, RUSSIA "ON THE SAME PAGE"
Moscow, diplomats say, has become increasingly impatient with Iran's rejection of a U.N.-backed nuclear fuel offer that would have moved Tehran's low-enriched uranium stocks to Russia and France to process it into fuel for an aging research reactor that produces medical isotopes.
Both Russia and China have privately urged Iran to accept the offer as a goodwill gesture, but Western diplomats said Beijing and Moscow did not receive any clear responses from Tehran. That, diplomats say, is one of the reasons China agreed to join negotiations on a new U.N. sanctions resolution.
"China said it was on the same page as Russia," a diplomat said, referring to Wednesday's conference call.
China and Russia have veto power on the Security Council, as do the United States, Britain and France.
The U.S.-drafted sanctions proposal would expand an existing U.N. blacklist, with a new focus on Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members and firms its controls.
A French call for energy sector sanctions was left out of the U.S. draft, as was a proposed ban on transactions linked to Iran's central bank, which Germany opposed, diplomats said.
But it does call for expanding existing limits on arms trade with Iran into a full weapons embargo, with an inspection regime similar to one in place for North Korea, and would blacklist several Iranian shipping firms.