UNITED NATIONS -- China has taken part in a conference call with five other world powers to discuss a U.S. proposal for a fourth round of United Nations sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program -- but no deal has yet emerged.
Beijing, which had refused for months to engage in serious discussions on sanctions, joined the call among senior foreign ministry officials from the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany, several UN diplomats said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner confirmed the call but declined to provide details. "It was part of ongoing consultations on our two-track policy, for which all sides expressed support," he said.
That approach refers to a combination of dialogue and incentives from the six powers -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia -- if Tehran complies with Security Council demands that it halt its nuclear enrichment program and the threat of sanctions if it does not.
Western nations say Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons capability. The Iranian government denies the accusation, saying its ambitions are limited to generating electricity.
As expected, the six states did not agree on a draft sanctions resolution on March 24, though envoys said the main topic of conversation was a U.S.-drafted sanctions proposal.
Hours after the call took place, the White House said President Barack Obama spoke about Iran and other issues with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
British UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters that senior foreign ministry officials from the six powers would hold another call on Iran next week. He added that Beijing appeared to be ready for serious discussions on new sanctions against Iran.
"My understanding is that they have agreed to engage substantively," Lyall Grant told reporters in New York.
But the difficulties with China, whose stance on Iran has puzzled the four Western powers, may not be over.
The United States, Britain, France, and Germany had hoped the Chinese would agree to a face-to-face meeting soon to hammer out the details of a UN sanctions resolution to submit to the 15-nation Security Council for a vote.
"China was only ready to commit to another conference call," a diplomat said, adding that it was positive that Beijing was finally willing to discuss the possibility of sanctions, something it had refused to do since a January 16 meeting of officials from the six powers in New York.
China's new ambassador to the United Nations, Li Baodong, was asked by reporters about the call. Avoiding specifics, he said China was "firmly committed to the nuclear non-proliferation regime" and "an advocate of diplomacy."
A U.S.-drafted UN sanctions proposal includes a possible ban on new Iranian banks abroad and foreign banks in Iran, as well as an arms embargo with international inspections similar to one in place against North Korea, Western diplomats said.
It would also urge vigilance against Iran's central bank, ban insurance and reinsurance of shipments to and from Iran and would blacklist some Iranian shipping companies and individuals and firms linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Russia has indicated it has problems with the arms embargo and other elements in the U.S. draft, but could support less stringent measures, the envoys said. It is not clear how China reacted to the draft, which it received several weeks ago.
Security Council diplomats have said it was unlikely the council could adopt an Iran sanctions resolution before June.
compiled from agency reports