Wednesday, April 26, 2006

President Bush directly appealed to Chinese President Hu Jintao last week to support economic sanctions on Iran for not abiding by international controls on its nuclear program, but Mr. Hu refused to do so now, Bush administration officials said.

“They left open the possibility that they could support sanctions in the future,” said one official familiar with the summit discussions between the two leaders at the White House last Thursday.

Some administration officials were encouraged by Mr. Hu’s response. Others said it was typical of Beijing’s lack of support for the United States on the issue.

On Capitol Hill yesterday, the House voted to tighten sanctions against Iran until it complies international nuclear controls. The bill urges holding Iran “accountable for its threatening behavior and to support a transition to democracy in Iran.”

The bill received overwhelming support, with a vote of 397-21, despite opposition from the White House, which thinks unilateral action could inhibit the administration’s ability to build an international coalition.

The high-level request of Mr. Hu was part of the administration’s push within the United Nations and the international community to gather support for sanctions against Iran. U.S. officials say Iran has violated agreements by enriching uranium, although it is short of the level needed to create nuclear weapons.

A report to the U.N. Security Council from Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will be sent to council members as early as today.

Officials said the report is expected to repeat earlier appeals for Iran to come into compliance with IAEA controls. The report also will not provide any language that could be used by Tehran to claim that its uranium enrichment outside of those controls has been permitted.

Submission of the IAEA report then is expected to set off a U.S.-led effort within the Security Council for a Chapter 7 resolution that could be passed within the next three months. The resolution would set the stage for economic sanctions or possibly even the use of force in the future to force Iran’s compliance with international controls.

Officials said Russia is leading international opposition to sanctions and that China continues to support Moscow’s position. The Russian government does not want to impose sanctions because of its sales of technology and military goods to Iran.

Moscow agreed earlier this month to send Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran that U.S. officials say could be used against U.S. or allied aircraft, if force is used to knock out Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Moscow also has signed an agreement with Iran to upgrade Iran’s Kilo-class submarines with the addition of SSN-27 anti-ship cruise missiles, weapons that could be used against U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf, or that could also be used by Iran to disrupt oil shipments through the Hormuz Strait.

The administration hopes to persuade China to support the Chapter 7 resolution or at least to abstain from voting against it, the officials said.

However, Iran is using its oil sales to China to influence Beijing’s political posture on the Iranian nuclear program, the officials said. China is buying regular shipments of Iranian oil that are needed to keep China’s modernization effort going.

The governments of Britain, France and Germany, along with some other European states, appear ready to support sanctions, as a result of the failure of the talks with the Iranian government to resolve the standoff diplomatically, the officials said.

The House legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, in effect alters the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 10 years ago by strengthening sanctions against Iran while taking away restrictions on Libya, which is now cooperating with the West in eliminating weapons of mass destruction.

It states that weapons of mass destruction-related sanctions against Iran remain in effect until Iran has verified that it is dismantling its programs. It requires that sanctions be imposed on any person who exports or supplies to Iran goods or technology that help Iran obtain weapons of mass destruction.

• This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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