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World News

Clinton sees consensus forming on Iran steps

LONDON (Reuters) - The international community is moving toward consensus on imposing new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.

Clinton was speaking in London after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, part of a series of meetings focused on Iran held on the sidelines of international conferences on Afghanistan and Yemen.

Russia -- which along with China has been less eager to push for new U.N. sanctions on Tehran -- was now “very willing” both to work with the United States and to consider “appropriate pressure” as a next step, she said.

“In the course of many consultations including today we believe that there is growing understanding in the international community that Iran should face consequences for its defiance of international obligations,” Clinton told reporters.

Lavrov, speaking to Russian reporters after the meeting, stopped short of openly supporting new sanctions. But he warned that patience with Tehran was running out, according to remarks quoted by state-run RIA Novosti.

“It is clear that one can’t wait forever, and our partners are already talking about the need to discuss further measures in the U.N. Security Council,” he said.

Clinton, who is officially in London to focus on Afghanistan and Yemen, is nevertheless engaged in extensive diplomacy on Iran, trying to win support from both Russia and China for new sanctions if Tehran does not act to ease concerns over its nuclear program.

Tehran says its only goal is generating nuclear energy, but Washington accuses it of trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Russia and China approved three previous rounds of sanctions against Iran but used their clout to water them down. The Kremlin has indicated it could support new sanctions but also cautioned against rushing to punish Iran, saying that this could be counterproductive.

WHAT ABOUT CHINA?

Clinton and another senior U.S. official involved in the discussions characterized Russia’s position as supportive of the U.S. effort, with the U.S. official saying only “tactics” over eventual sanctions needed to be worked out.

“From the very beginning there is agreement that pressure is part of the equation,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“I can’t tell you when or what a Security Council resolution (on sanctions) will actually look like -- I’m confident that within a few weeks we will be able to begin the negotiation process in earnest in New York.”

The countries negotiating with Iran include the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- plus Germany, the so called “P5+1.”

Of these, China has appeared the most reluctant to embark on a new sanctions track against Iran, one of its major crude oil suppliers. Beijing sent a relatively low level official to talks earlier this month in New York, which ended inconclusively.

Clinton, who was due to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Thursday, was asked what might change his mind on the issue of applying more pressure soon.

“On Iran, I don’t think there is a mind to change,” Clinton said. “I think there is an openness. I think there is an awareness of the importance of the international community standing together with respect to Iran,” Clinton said.

“The P5+1 Has been unified up until now with respect to every action that we’ve taken ... and I am working toward a point where we will continue to be unified and send a very strong message to the Iranians.”

One senior Western diplomat said the P5+1 are trying to schedule a conference call on Iran before the end of this week, and will have in hand U.S.-drafted “elements” of a Security Council sanctions resolution.

The diplomat declined to give precise details, though he made clear that it could contain new measures targeting members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, adding new names of individuals or companies to existing sanctions lists.

Clinton declined to confirm this, saying “I’m not going to preview or pre-empt what we’re doing.”

additional reporting by Lou Charbonneau in New York, Steve Gutterman in Moscow; editing by David Stamp

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