China, Russia seek new Iran nuclear talks
China and Russia sought to cool frayed tempers Thursday following a UN Security Council resolution imposing fresh sanctions on Iran, saying they still wanted talks to end the nuclear standoff.
Meanwhile Britain warned that the European Union may push for more punishment unless Tehran returns to the negotiating table.
China and Russia were forced to act after Iran slammed the fourth round of sanctions passed by the Security Council on Wednesday. But Russia also froze a contract to send S-300 missiles to Iran, officials were quoted as saying.
Both China and Russia, who traditionally have close ties to Iran, have in the past refused tougher sanctions and stand to lose a lot of business in any backlash against their votes this time.
"It is clear that the sanctions will not settle the problem of Iran's nuclear programme by themself," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement. "Our efforts aim to give impetus to a political and diplomatic settlement of the issue."
The ministry added that the resolution did not impose "stifling or paralysing" sanctions on Iran and ruled out the use of force.
Russia also warned against unilateral sanctions by other countries. "For us any such attempts to go beyond the Security Council are unacceptable," it said.
The UN vote slapping new military and financial sanctions on Iran is the fourth attempt since 2006 to rein in Tehran's suspect nuclear programme.
The US-drafted resolution was adopted by 12 votes in the 15-member Security Council, with Lebanon abstaining and Brazil and Turkey voting against. Russia and China, both permanent members of the council who can veto any resolution, supported the measure.
China said dialogue was needed to end international fears that Iran is seeking a nuclear bomb.
"China always holds it is the right way to address the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue, negotiation and other diplomatic means to seek a solution that satisfies the concerns of all parties," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in remarks carried by state news agency Xinhua.
China and Russia only backed the sanctions after months of bargaining in which they watered down the original US draft to protect their substantial energy and economic interests in Iran.
Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi, who oversees Iran's nuclear programme, lashed out at China.
"China is gradually losing its respectable position in the Islamic world and by the time it wakes up, it will be too late," Salehi told ISNA news agency.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who arrived in Shanghai on Thursday ahead of a visit to the World Expo on Friday, said in Tajikstan's capital Dushanbe on Wednesday: "These resolutions are not worth a dime for the Iranian nation." He has threatened to suspend negotiations with six major powers if the sanctions were imposed.
Ahmadinejad was conspicuously absent from the first day of the annual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a regional security group in which Russia and China play a major role and Iran holds observer status, on Thursday in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent.
By contrast, he chose last June's SCO meeting in Russia for his first foreign trip since his disputed re-election victory.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said there was still room for a diplomatic solution and that Turkey's vote against the sanctions was a matter of honour.
"If we had not said 'no' it would have been self-denial... It would have been a lack of self-respect," Erdogan said at a Turkey-Arab forum in Istanbul.
"We insist that all problems must be resolved at the negotiating table. Nothing is achieved with weapons or through embargoes and isolation. Together with Brazil, we will keep up our efforts for a negotiated solution," he said.
The sanctions were condemned in the Muslim world, with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) saying in a statement that sanctions "will have negative implications on the ongoing international efforts to settle peacefully...the Iranian nuclear issue".
Hamas accused the international community of adopting double standards with regards to Israel, which possesses the Middle East's sole, if undeclared, nuclear arsenal.
"Hamas forcefully denounces the imposition of unjust international sanctions on Iran," it said in a statement Thursday. "This is an example of a policy of double standards -- punishing Iran for its peaceful nuclear programme and defending Israel, which has an important nuclear arsenal."
Britain warned that there may be more punishment to come unless Iran resumes talks.
"I think it is very important that the European Union does take further measures to show that the European Union is prepared on this subject and others to use its weight in the world," Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters in Berlin on Thursday.
Hague, who held talks with his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle, said that EU foreign ministers would discuss the issue at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.
"It (the resolution on sanctions) is a clear signal to Iran that a refusal to negotiate over its whole nuclear programme will not work. In the face of that refusal we will increase the peaceful and legitimate pressure on Iran to show that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes," he said.
© 2010 AFP