BEIJING – BEIJING (AP) — The European Union's foreign affairs chief said Friday that China is willing to discuss sanctions on Iran as long as they are carefully targeted and bolster efforts to curb the Iranian nuclear program.
EU Foreign Affairs High Representative Catherine Ashton said her discussions with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao show that China's position has evolved from agreeing in principal to discuss sanctions to recognizing that targeted sanctions play a role.
"We weren't discussing whether or not. We were discussing what sort" of sanctions, Ashton told reporters. She said that Wen wants to make sure that the sanctions are not so broad as to affect large segments of the population, but rather are targeted.
As a permanent U.N. Security Council member with veto power and a major customer for Iran's oil and gas, China occupies a pivotal position in efforts to curb the Iranian nuclear program. Diplomats involved in trying to persuade Beijing to support sanctions previously thought that at best China would abstain in a Security Council vote and not back them — a lack of unanimity that might encourage more foot-dragging by Tehran.
Publicly, China has given no sign that it is moving beyond its stated position that dialogue rather than sanctions offer the best chances for success. Ashton said that she too supports a negotiated settlement but not endless talk.
In recent days, Ashton said, ambassadors she did not further identify have passed her messages that Tehran wants to re-engage and if so Iran must show that more talks are not just a delaying tactic.
A sign of whether the threat of sanctions is making Tehran more amenable could come next week. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will address a U.N. conference to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in New York on Monday. Ashton and representatives of the other countries involved in the Iran nuclear negotiations — the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and China — will also be at the conference.