Iran Gets China's Support on Nuclear Issue

Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Friday, September 14, 2007

Iran Gets China's Support on Nuclear Issue

( - A senior Iranian government envoy is visiting China to bolster support for a long-time ally, amid a new U.S. push for Security Council sanctions over Tehran's controversial nuclear program.

Beijing was quick to endorse an "action plan," which Iran and the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei agreed upon last month. The plan set a rough timetable -- several months -- for Iran to answer questions about its nuclear activities and allows for some new inspections.

But the U.S., supported by European allies, said Iran could use the plan as a further delaying tactic.

The State Department on Wednesday confirmed reports that the U.S. will push for a third round of Security Council sanctions because of Iran's continuing uranium-enrichment work.

The stepped-up activity comes amid heightened tensions in U.S.-Iran relations, following testimony on Capitol Hill pointing to Tehran's destabilizing influence in Iraq.

A U.S. general in Iraq said Thursday that a deadly attack on a military headquarters near Baghdad airport apparently was caused by a type of rocket known to have been provided by Iran to Iraqi Shi'ite radicals. Commanders also have blamed Iran for armor-penetrating roadside bombs that have killed scores of American troops, an accusation denied by Tehran.

Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi was visiting China Thursday and Friday for talks focusing on the nuclear dispute, he told state media.

Beijing foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu on Thursday said China welcomed the agreement reached between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), believing that it would "help restore the confidence of the international community in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear energy plan."

The U.S. and European Union suspect that the program, ostensibly for electricity generation, is a cover for an attempt to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge.

Beijing, according to the U.S., has been a major supplier of ballistic missile technology to Iran. China also objects to what it regards as outside interference in states' domestic affairs, and has historically been reluctant to support sanctions.

Together with Russia, China has kept a brake on U.S.-led efforts to punish Iran in the Security Council, where the five permanent members (P5) -- the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France -- have veto power.

Nonetheless, the Security Council after months of delays passed a resolution last December imposing some sanctions on Tehran and on key parties linked to the nuclear program. A second resolution in March tightened the restrictions, but Iran still has not suspended uranium enrichment.

The U.S. government reportedly plans to host a meeting of the P5 plus Germany next Friday to discuss further steps.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed that there were "tactical differences of opinion" with China and Russia -- "but that's nothing new."

"We're still confident that everybody is ready to talk about moving forward on a new sanctions resolution," he told a briefing.

Top Iranian officials said any new sanctions would jeopardize Tehran's "constructive cooperation" with the IAEA.

Since the IAEA referred the Iran file to the Security Council, Iran has been working hard to get the issue returned to the Vienna-based agency, where it enjoys considerable support among board members, especially from developing nations in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

NAM, a grouping that includes Iran itself, has also backed the Iran-IAEA action plan.

Critics of the Iranian government believe it is using every available tactic to delay compliance, while racing to achieve its suspected goal of securing a nuclear weapons capability.

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