UN efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear plans hit by Chinese diplomatic snub

China is to deliver a carefully calibrated diplomatic snub at a meeting today to discuss UN sanctions aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

After postponing the six-power meeting for weeks, China said at the last minute that it would be represented by a junior diplomat — even though Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States are all sending top officials.

Western diplomats say that China is now taking a harder line than Russia in opposing further UN sanctions on Tehran. One said that Beijing seemed more interested in energy security than preventing Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. China imports about 15 per cent of its oil from Iran.

Beijing, in effect, ignored the year-end deadline for progress on the issue set by President Obama. The political directors of the six powers were forced to postpone their year-end meeting shortly before Christmas because China’s envoy said he could not attend.

The meeting was rescheduled for today so that the Chinese official, He Yafei, a deputy foreign minister, could be present. However, Beijing said on Thursday that Mr He could not attend because of his “busy schedule” and would be replaced by a counsellor from China’s UN mission in New York.

The snub makes it unlikely that there will be any substantive agreement on new UN sanctions at today’s meeting. The Security Council has already imposed three rounds of sanctions to try to stop Iran enriching uranium as part of a suspected nuclear weapons programme.