The comments by Russia's foreign minister and China's U.N. ambassador were the strongest reactions yet to the draft by the two key U.N. Security Council members, and signaled difficult negotiations ahead on the resolution drawn up by Britain, France and Germany.
"We cannot support measures that in essence are aimed at isolating Iran from the outside world, including isolating people who are called upon to conduct negotiations on the nuclear program," the Interfax news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying Wednesday.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said "there are still different views on what kind of actions the council needs to do under the current circumstances."
Wang said "the major concern" is that some members want tough sanctions like those in the resolution that the council approved on Oct. 14 to punish North Korea for conducting a nuclear test.
The European draft on Iran orders all countries to prevent the sale and supply of material and technology that could contribute to Tehran's nuclear and missile programs. It imposes a travel ban and freezes the assets of people involved in these programs — and also orders countries to freeze the assets of companies and organizations involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programs.
"I think the situation, the cases, are slightly different," Wang said. "Of course, the main concern is nuclear, but I think that North Korea had a test and the Iranians always claim that their programs are for peaceful use."
Unlike North Korea, Iran has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, he said.
Both Russia and China, which have strong commercial ties to Tehran, agreed in principle to sanctions over Iran's defiance of the council's ultimatum to freeze uranium enrichment and dramatically improve cooperation with the U.N. probe of suspect Iranian atomic activities.
But both nations have continued to publicly push for dialogue instead of U.N. punishment, despite the collapse last month of a European Union attempt to entice Iran into talks. The EU had proposed that Iran at least temporarily freeze enrichment as a condition for multilateral talks aimed at erasing suspicions it may be trying to build nuclear arms in violation of its treaty commitments.
Wang said the question is "what is the best way out."
"We want to have a solution of the Iranian nuclear issue, whether sanctions is the right way or whether further negotiation," he said.
The five veto-wielding permanent council members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — were expected to discuss the resolution this week at the United Nations.
Lavrov said that Russia would seek to focus the document on aspects of Iran's program that the International Atomic Energy Agency has identified as possibly serious risks, including uranium enrichment and a heavy-water reactor, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
While Russia and China signaled the draft resolution is too strong, the United States indicated it considers the draft too weak.
Russia's Security Council chief Igor Ivanov indicated in comment Tuesday that Russia could support sanctions as a way to push Tehran into talks, but also left plenty of room for wrangling in the council.
Speaking Wednesday in Moscow, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who will take over as U.N. secretary-general on Jan. 1, urged Iran to halt uranium enrichment and accept the incentives in return, Interfax reported.
A Russian Defense Ministry official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his government would fulfill a contract to supply air defense missiles to Iran unless Moscow decides to back the international sanctions that would make it illegal.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, denied an ITAR-Tass report that said Russia had already started delivering the missiles.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov defended the $700 million contract signed last December to sell 29 Tor-M1 air defense missile systems to Iran, saying they were purely defensive weapons with a limited range.