Russia, China thwart any new sanctions against Iran
Objections from Moscow called instrumental
NEW YORK - Russia and China are blocking US and European efforts to slap new sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
But it is objections in particular from Moscow, angered by Washington's criticism of its invasion of Georgia, that have forced cancellation of high-level talks on Iran that were scheduled to be held here this week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, officials said.
A senior American diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Bush administration's internal thinking on Russia and Iran, said "there clearly is spillover of the difficulties created by the Georgia crisis, difficulties with Russian behavior that we have to work through."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet face-to-face today for the first time since Russia's August invasion of Georgia in what is expected to be a tense session covering issues including Iran, North Korea, Georgia, Ukraine, NATO expansion, and the Middle East.
The clearest manifestation of the Georgia spillover is Russia's role in the six-nation effort to get Iran to stop enriching uranium that could fuel an atomic bomb in exchange for an incentives package it was offered by the group earlier this year.
The group includes the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States - and Germany. Russian and Chinese envoys last week prevented a consensus from being reached on new sanctions, the diplomat said.
The foreign ministers of the six countries were to have met in New York tomorrow to continue those discussions, but yesterday Russia's Foreign Ministry said it saw no reason for such a gathering.
"We do not see any sort of 'fire' that requires us to toss everything aside and meet to discuss Iran's nuclear program in the middle of a packed week at the United Nations General Assembly," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in a statement.
"On the contrary, there are more urgent questions - for example, the situation in Afghanistan and along the Afghan-Pakistan border - but our Western partners for some reason aren't rushing to discuss these," he said.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said later that the ministerial meeting would not happen and maintained that the United States agreed with the cancellation.
"We agree with [the Russians] that the time is not right to have a meeting at the ministerial level," he told reporters. "There is still work to be done at [a lower] level."
Iran is already under three sets of UN Security Council sanctions, passed after objections from China and Russia were overcome. The United States and Europe believe it is now urgent to pass a fourth set, especially since Iran will not cooperate with the UN's atomic watchdog.
If Russia stops the foreign ministers meeting from happening, it is not clear how much the United States and Europeans will be able to accomplish on sanctions.
Iran, which insists its nuclear program is designed to produce atomic power and not weapons, has been unmoved despite signs that its economy has been hit hard. In a speech to the United Nations yesterday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran accused "a few bullying powers" of trying to stop his country's legal right to a peaceful nuclear energy program.