EU, China talk over how, not if, to sanction Iran

BEIJING Fri Apr 30, 2010 2:46am EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - European talks with Chinese leaders over Iran have moved toward how to target sanctions rather than whether they should be applied at all, the European Union said on Friday.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said she told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sanctions were needed to keep pressure on Iran over its nuclear activities and that she felt China had accepted that position.

"Premier Wen was clearly in process of saying we should have them (sanctions) but ... he wants them to be targeted," she said.

Wen's stance appears in line with a statement by China's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday that China "does not oppose the twin track strategy" of dialogue and sanctions.

That statement, which followed a meeting of the Chinese and French presidents, reiterated China still hoped dialogue would resolve the issue. French president Nicolas Sarkozy said after the meeting the time for sanctions was nearing.

Recent overtures by Iran for talks did not mean sanctions should be abandoned, Ashton told reporters, adding she believed the two-track approach was needed to keep up pressure.

Beijing faces growing calls from Western governments to support a fresh round of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear activities, even as it tries to steer a diplomatic middle role between powerful, nuclear-armed states and those without nuclear capacity.

Although China has been discussing possible sanctions, it has also long stressed that Iranian demands for peaceful nuclear power must also be heeded and has in the past expressed displeasure at sanctions proposals hitting Iran's energy sector.

Iran rejects Western charges that it is secretly developing atomic weapons and says the goal of its nuclear program is the generation of electricity and other peaceful activities. But Iran has defied five U.N. Security Council resolutions ordering it to cease uranium enrichment.

After meetings with top Chinese diplomats, Ashton will fly to New York where she is due to address the U.N. Security Council.

(Editing by Paul Tait)

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