WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Western powers on Monday pushed for new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program as Tehran voiced defiance about any new punitive measures, saying high oil prices would cushion the blow.
Senior diplomats from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — China, Russia, the United States, France and Britain — and Germany, met in Washington to discuss strategy over Iran and give momentum to a sanctions resolution still being haggled over at the United Nations.
“We continue to expect a vote soon on the draft sanctions resolution currently being discussed in New York,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey after the meeting.
He provided few details of what was discussed, but Russia and China were expected to argue for more “carrots” rather than “sticks” to persuade Iran to give up its sensitive nuclear work.
“They also reaffirmed their commitment to the dual track approach for responding to the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program,” added Casey.
The United States, Britain and France are pushing for a U.N. Security Council vote this week because they fear Iran seeks an atomic bomb.
But some nonpermanent Security Council members like Libya are unlikely to support the move, meaning the United States might not get the unanimous U.N. vote it had hoped for.
“Really we cannot be supportive of further sanctions,” Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Giadalla Ettalhi, told reporters as he went into a Security Council meeting on unrelated issues in New York.
Asked if Libya would vote “no” if the resolution went to a vote unchanged, Ettalhi said, “I think so.”
Iran’s U.N. ambassador said his nation would not comply with a new sanctions resolution and considered any demand that it suspend uranium enrichment illegal.
“It would not be logical to comply with the resolution,” said Iranian ambassador Mohammad Khazaee. “We do not see any reason to suspend our enrichment (of uranium),” he added.
An Iranian minister was reported as saying the economy of the world’s fourth-largest oil producer would not be hurt.
“New sanctions will not harm Iran’s economy ... High oil prices will help Iran to compensate,” Economy and Finance Minister Davoud Danesh-Jafari was quoted as saying by the students’ news agency ISNA.
The West believes Iran’s nuclear work is aimed at building an atomic bomb while Tehran says it is for peaceful power generation.
The six major powers agreed in a meeting in Berlin last month to impose a third round of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Tehran and this meeting was a follow-on from those talks.
One U.S. concern is that Russia, which was reluctant from the start, will use Libya’s opposition to more sanctions as an excuse to further weaken the U.N resolution, already watered down to accommodate Beijing and Moscow’s objections.
Russia’s support might also have been eroded by its anger over the decision by the United States and many European states to recognize Kosovo, which declared independence from Russian ally Serbia just over a week ago.
The new sanctions resolution formally submitted by France and Britain calls for measures including asset freezes and mandatory travel bans for specific Iranian officials.
It also expands the list of Iranian officials and companies targeted by the sanctions. Earlier rounds of sanctions were imposed in December 2006 and March 2007.
Iran has warned Western powers they would be the ones to suffer if new sanctions were imposed on Tehran, which has resisted any OPEC oil output increase to bring down prices from above $99 a barrel. Tehran has even supported an output cut.
Mohammad Ali Khatibi, deputy director of international affairs at the National Iranian Oil Company, said he saw no reason for OPEC producing countries to raise output as market supplies of crude oil were sufficient.
The Islamic Republic has threatened to review cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose latest report on Friday confronted Iran for the first time with Western intelligence reports of work linked to making atomic bombs.
Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Tehran and Patrick Worsnip and Lou Charbonneau at the United Nations in New York. Editing by Chris Wilson