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EU Official Sees Solidarity On Iran Sanctions

EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana (file photo)

EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana (file photo)

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said he did not expect Russia and China would oppose Western powers if they call for new sanctions on Iran for refusing to freeze its nuclear program.

"I don't think that the Russians and Chinese will say...never again," Solana told reporters on September 22 when asked about the possibility of a fourth round of sanctions against Tehran for defying UN demands that it stop enriching uranium.

"There's not going to be a breaking of the group," he said.

Solana will be joining the foreign ministers from Britain, France, the United States, Germany, Russia, and China in New York today to discuss Iran's nuclear program.

Solana said he did not expect the meeting of the six powers to result in any major decisions. He said he and the six foreign ministers would discuss the group's forthcoming meeting with Iran in Geneva on October 1.

Until recently Moscow had appeared to categorically reject new sanctions against Tehran. But a member of Russia's delegation to the UN General Assembly indicated Solana's assessment of Moscow's position on the possibility of imposing new UN sanctions on Tehran was accurate.

"This is our general attitude toward the situation both in Iran and North Korea," the Russian delegate, who declined to be identified, told reporters. But the delegate said "it is premature to be speaking about particular positions."

Medvedev's Softened Stance

Last week Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he would not rule out new sanctions against Tehran. The Russian delegate referred to Medvedev's words, saying Medvedev had made clear that "in certain situations sanctions can be a solution."

The West suspects the Islamic republic is developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic-energy program.

Tehran insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity and has defied five Security Council resolutions demanding that it suspend all sensitive nuclear activities.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki met with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband at the United Nations on September 22. Mottaki told reporters afterward the Western powers knew that sanctions were a "failed policy."

"If they would like to taste once again the failed policies, that is up to them," he said. "We can't prevent them from [taking] any new decisions."

The six powers had their first and last direct meeting with an Iranian delegation in July 2008. A U.S. official was at that meeting, even though Washington severed diplomatic ties with Tehran in 1980 during a hostage crisis.

That meeting represented a major policy shift for the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush, which was reluctant to talk with representatives of what Bush once called the "axis of evil" -- Iran, North Korea, and prewar Iraq.

Obama's New Engagement

President Barack Obama has said he was willing to engage Iran's leadership. The new U.S. point man on Iran, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, will be attending the October 1 meeting in Geneva.

Diplomats from the four Western powers have said that a recent letter from Iran to the six, which Tehran described as a counterproposal to the six powers' offer of economic and political incentives in exchange for suspending enrichment, contained nothing that would resolve the nuclear standoff.

They said it appeared to be an attempt by Tehran to slow down the Western push for a new UN Security Council resolution that would impose new, tougher sanctions on Iran. The four Western powers have called for targeting Iran's energy sector, although Russia and China reacted coolly to the idea.

Moscow and Beijing supported three rounds of UN travel bans and asset freezes aimed at Iran's nuclear and missile industries. But they worked hard during negotiations on the wording of the sanctions resolutions to soften the measures.

The Russian delegate denied there was any quid pro quo agreement regarding Obama's decision last week to scrap plans for a U.S. missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic that had angered Moscow.

Asked whether he worried the Russians and Americans had made a deal to scrap the missile shield in exchange for Moscow's support for further sanctions, Mottaki said: "We welcome the reduction of weapons between the two powers."