From The Times September 3, 2009, by Roger Boyes in Berlin:
Western diplomats struggled yesterday to secure an agreement on imposing tougher sanctions on Iran in an attempt to end its nuclear programme.
The meeting of the five United Nations permanent Security Council members and Germany was complicated by a last-minute offer of talks from Saeed Jalili, the top nuclear negotiator in Iran.
Because no details of the offer were available, the delegates assumed that Mr Jalili planned to use his proposal to slow the progress of moves to impose sanctions. Russia and China used the prospect of a peace offering from Tehran, however vague, as an argument against punitive measures.
One of the diplomats said: “The point is to duck, dive, tease and confuse until they are more or less resistant to the kind of sanctions that we have been considering.”
One plan, currently before the US Congress, is to ban exports of refined petroleum products and tighten control over Iran’s activities in the financial and insurance markets. A ban on petrol would hit Iran since it imports about 40 per cent of its needs. Petrol shortages have, in the past, led to domestic protests.
But China is already helping Iran to build new oil refineries in the hope of doubling domestic capacity by 2012. By that time Iran will be immune to threats of cutting off petrol imports. It also intends to remove subsidies on domestic petrol, making it more expensive and throttling consumption.
China thus has no commercial interest in sharpening the sanctions weapon. The Russians too are sceptical. Before the permanent members’ session, Moscow talked down the prospect of swift progress.
“I believe nothing new should be expected as the six nations differ over which way they should follow to tackle Iran’s nuclear programme,” said Vladimir Sazhin, of the Russian Institute of Oriental Studies.
Moscow’s view is that Iran is softening its position somewhat and the Security Council five should wait and see how the power structures change in the light of the June 12 presidential election and subsequent unrest.
“Iran has allowed access to the previously classified nuclear facilities in Natanz,” Mr Sazhin said.
France and Germany called this week for harder-edged sanctions. Their concern is that if the West is not seen to be pushing Iran harder, Israel may consider a military strike. Critics of President Obama, such as John Bolton, the former US envoy to the United Nations, argue that sanctions are doomed to fail even if they could be linked directly to stopping Iranian nuclear plans.
“Adopting tougher economic sanctions is simply another detour away from hard decisions on whether to accept a nuclear Iran or support using force to prevent it,” he wrote in The Wall Street Journal this week.