BEIJING - China is looking for a "well balanced" resolution to the Iran nuclear issue after the United States and its Western allies reportedly won crucial support from Moscow and Beijing for new sanctions against Iran over its suspected nuclear program.
But Iran on Wednesday said that the new round of sanctions had no chance of being approved in the UN Security Council and vowed that Teheran would go ahead with a fuel swap brokered by Brazil and Turkey.
"There is no chance for a new resolution," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters when asked about the draft resolution in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe.
Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong told reporters that his country, which has close trade ties to Teheran, did not expect those relations to be harmed in any way.
"The purpose of sanctions is to bring the Iranian side to the negotiating table," Li said. "The sanctions are not for punishing innocent people and should not harm normal trade and business exchanges."
The new 10-page draft of sanctions would ban Iran from pursuing "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons", freeze assets of nuclear-related companies linked to the Revolutionary Guard, bar Iranian investment in activities such as uranium mining as well as see tighter cargo inspections, the Associated Press reported.
Both Russia and China resisted sanctions before they were persuaded to support the stepped-up pressure on Iran in recent weeks, AP reported. Proposed sanctions relating to Iran's oil and gas industry were removed due to opposition from the two countries, which have vast investments and interests in Iran's energy sector, the news agency added.
After agreement by the five permanent UN Security Council members - China, Russia, France, the US and Britain - plus Germany, the draft was handed to the other 10 non-permanent council members for further discussion. Most UN envoys of major powers have voiced their support.
The decision to circulate the resolution follows a deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey - currently non-permanent members of the UN Security Council - and made public on Monday in which Iran agreed to send some enriched uranium abroad in return for fuel rods for a medical research reactor.
The US appears to be the least pleased by the latest swap deal because Teheran has said enrichment activities will continue.
US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the deal is not convincing enough to stop imposing new sanctions against Iran, but added the door to dialogue is still open, Reuters reported.
Both China and Russia welcomed the agreement but US officials regard that deal as a maneuver by Iran to delay more UN sanctions.
Li stressed that energy supplies and normal trade exchanges should not be affected. "Circulating a draft resolution on Iran does not mean the door of diplomacy is closed," he was quoted as saying by Xinhua on Tuesday.
Hua Liming, a former Chinese ambassador to Iran, was quoted by China Energy Newspaper as saying that "energy cooperation between China and Iran is rather close. Iran has become China's third-largest crude oil supplier, exporting 27 million tons each year".
Hua said "energy is an important consideration for China, but not the only one".
"Maintaining peace and security in the Middle East is also high on China's agenda."
Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said about the draft that "it's language we can live with".
Fan Jishe, a scholar of US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it would be unfair if China's commercial interests have to be compromised in the end.
"The key is to allow Iran's peaceful use of nuclear energy but prevent proliferation at the same time," he added.
Iran says its nuclear program is for energy use, but the West thinks it is for producing nuclear weapons.
After months of frequent bilateral and multilateral exchanges at different levels, the current version of the draft UN resolution is thought to be weaker than the original US-introduced proposal, especially on financial and energy-related measures, reported the AP.
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said "there is nothing in recent history that suggests that modest sanctions such as those contained in the draft resolution will divert Iran's current leaders from their current path".
But the dilution is only relative compared with the initial draft and will be tougher than previous sanctions, said Shen Dingli, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. "The new round of sanctions will be more severe and that's why Iran has struck the nuclear swap deal as a compromise," Shen said.
Gong Shaopeng, a professor of international politics at Beijing's China Foreign Affairs University, said the trend is moving closer to voting for sanctions.
"The US, like China, takes all diplomatic matters into account before making a decision."
The Christian Science Monitor noted that the Obama administration made several tactical decisions in exchange for China's backing for the resolution, such as not labeling China a currency manipulator, reaffirming the one-China policy - especially after recent rows over arms sales to Taiwan and the Dalai Lama - and taking note of China's oil needs. "The decision to support new sanctions shows its (China's) own commitment to nuclear nonproliferation", it said.
AP, Reuters, Zhong Nan in Beijing and Chen Weihua in New York contributed to this story.