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Russia, China Balk at Tighter Iran Nuclear Sanctions

Russia and China have expressed deep concern about Western proposals for tough financial penalties against Iran for its controversial nuclear program. From U.N. headquarters, VOA's Peter Heinlein reports negotiations on a Security Council sanctions resolution are still in a preliminary stage.

Ambassadors from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany met for two hours Friday in search of a way forward on a follow-up Iran sanctions resolution. It was their fourth meeting this week, in addition to a number of conference calls involving senior diplomats and ministers in national capitals.

But after all the talk, there is no draft resolution on the table, and no indication when one might be ready. The document being discussed is simply a working paper containing a list of elements. Both Russia and China have made clear they have strong objections to some of those elements.

The elements include a travel ban on some Iranian officials, financial and trade restrictions, a ban on Iranian weapons exports, and an expanded list of officials and institutions whose assets would be frozen, including members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

After Friday's session, China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said Beijing and Moscow have different objections. He said China's main concern is that penalties aimed at Iran's nuclear program would end up hurting the Iranian people.

"The Chinese main difficulty is with the financial and trade sanctions, because we feel we are not punishing Iranian people, we should punish the Iranians for their activities in the nuclear field, and the difficulty for Russia, Russia has difficulty with the name of the Iranian Revolutionary guards, because they feel it's an institution and you should not punish an institution," he said.

Wang suggested the sanctions talks have a long way to go. He said 'we're still talking about philosophy as well as language.'

Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin says Friday's meeting was held in a 'constructive atmosphere'. But when asked whether a draft resolution might ready for discussion by next week, he replied, 'substance is more important than speed.'

Churkin said while Russia has serious concerns about some elements, Moscow supports the need for sending a strong message to Iran about carrying on with uranium enrichment in defiance of a Security Council demand. "It's clear that the international community does not approve of movement in the Iranian nuclear program which we have been seeing," he said.

Acting U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Alejandro Wolff told reporters after Friday's meeting the financial issue is probably the main point of concern.

The Security Council initially imposed sanctions last December, after Iran refused an earlier demand to halt uranium enrichment. The December sanctions resolution froze assets and restricted travel of some Iranian officials and gave Tehran another 60-day deadline to halt suspect nuclear activities.

The current negotiations on a follow up resolution began after Iran ignored that deadline.

The United States and western allies suspect Iran's nuclear program may be a cover for an illicit weapons program. Iran denies the allegation, and maintains its activities are aimed solely at producing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.