China said Tuesday it wants clarification on a few points in a proposed new package of sanctions against Iran amid optimism that the major powers were moving closer to agreement on measures to pressure Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.
A meeting of ambassadors from the five permanent Security Council nations and Germany to discuss reactions from their capitals to the package was delayed because Russia was waiting for instructions from Moscow.
The meeting started late Tuesday morning after Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin arrived, saying he had received his instructions. China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya had arrived much earlier, but he said he still had no instructions from Beijing.
The modest package of new sanctions against Iran is likely to include an embargo on Iranian arms exports and an asset freeze on more individuals and companies associated with Tehran's nuclear and missile programs, council diplomats said.
It is also likely to include a ban on government loans to Iran, but a travel ban is out, and there will likely be no ban on arms imports or on export credit guarantees for companies doing business in Iran, the diplomats said.
"I think there are a few points we still need clarifications from others, but basically I have to say yesterday we made some progress, and this progress are important," Wang told reporters Tuesday.
Germany's U.N. Ambassador Thomas Matussek headed into Tuesday's meeting saying, "I'm very optimistic."
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Ambassadors from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany emerged from a closed-door meeting late Monday far more optimistic than ever before, but also cautious because of potential problems with every proposal in the package.
France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere hailed the progress saying, "we are now very close."
Acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff also reported "good progress" but cautioned that there were still some concerns.
"It's a package approach, and so there are things that we're very pleased about, and things that we're less pleased about -- and likewise for probably every delegation involved," he said.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin cautioned that "the devil is in the details."
The five permanent council members are expected to present the package to the 10 non-permanent council members sometime Tuesday, and their concerns must also be addressed.
"If everything goes well, our hope would be to get it done by the end of the week -- a vote," Wolff said.
In December, the Security Council voted unanimously to impose limited sanctions against Iran for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment. It ordered all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs and to freeze assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to those programs.
The council warned it would adopt further nonmilitary sanctions if Iran refused to comply.
Iran insists its enrichment program is peaceful and aimed solely at producing nuclear energy, but the U.S., European nations, and the U.N. nuclear watchdog are concerned that Iran's goal is to produce nuclear weapons.
When Iran expanded its enrichment program in defiance of the council, the six countries started considering possible new sanctions including a travel ban, an arms embargo, trade restrictions, and an expanded list of people and companies subject to an asset freeze.
The United States and the Europeans favored all the measures but Russia and China, which have close commercial ties with Iran, are reluctant to impose tough new sanctions.
China's Wang said Monday the six countries agreed to impose an embargo on arms exports from Iran -- but not on imports. The six are still debating whether to ask the 191 other U.N. members states to "exercise vigilance or restraint" in selling seven categories of heavy weapons to Iran.
There also appears to be agreement on expanding the list of individuals and entities subject to an asset freeze. Li Junhua, a senior diplomat in China's U.N. mission, said a much bigger list of individuals and entities was being studied in capitals.
Wolff said "one of the trickiest issues that we're still discussing" is a proposal to freeze the assets of companies controlled by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, an elite corps that oversees vital Iranian interests, including oil and natural gas installations and the nation's missile arsenal.
Russia has raised concerns that mentioning the Revolutionary Guards would amount to censuring the entire institution.
To win unanimous council approval of the December resolution, a mandatory travel ban was dropped.
The resolution that was adopted calls on all states "to exercise vigilance" regarding the entry or transit through their territory of the Iranians on the U.N. list and notify the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions when those Iranians show up in their country.
Li said the new resolution would generally follow that language, calling on countries to "exercise vigilance and restraint."
In the financial area, China has resisted proposed cutbacks on loan guarantees for companies doing business in Iran, a measure strongly supported by the United States.
Wang indicated that the only financial or trade measure likely to be approved is the ban on government loans to Iran.
As in the December resolution, the diplomats said the new resolution is expected to ask U.N. nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei to report to the council on Iran's compliance in 60 days.
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