Britain, US confident of new sanctions on Iran

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WASHINGTON, Oct 23 (Reuters) British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said today he was confident China and Russia would support a third round of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

Miliband, in Washington to meet U.S. officials and lawmakers, dismissed suggestions that Russia and China, which hold veto power in the UN Security Council, would not back more sanctions against Tehran for refusing to give up its sensitive nuclear work.

''I don't accept that we don't know what the next step is and that the international community will somehow fragment,'' Miliband told reporters at the British Embassy in Washington.

Miliband, who discussed Iran during talks yesterday with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said China and Russia made clear in New York last month that if Iran did not give up uranium enrichment work then a third UN Security Council resolution would be drawn up.

''It was not just us who signed up to that but the Chinese and the Russians signed up to that too,'' he said.

He said sanctions were working against Tehran, pointing to a drop of 34 percent in European investment in Iran up until May of this year.

''Clearly we have not yet succeeded in our goals in respect to uranium enrichment ... and that is why a further sanctions resolution is being contemplated,'' Miliband said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today that Tehran would not retreat ''one iota'' from its nuclear program.

His new nuclear negotiator was set to meet European Union negotiator Javier Solana in Rome today.

There have been conflicting signals from Russia and China.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week direct dialogue was a better way of dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions than the threat of military action or sanctions.

During a rare visit to Tehran, Putin also cast doubt on whether Iran was building a nuclear weapon anyway. Iran argues that its nuclear program is for energy purposes.

US ACTIONS The United States, which has spearheaded international sanctions against Iran, is looking at a range of unilateral measures, including financial restrictions on the Qods force, an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

A senior US official, who spoke on condition he was not named, said it could be ''days or weeks'' before an announcement is made on sanctions against the force, which Washington blames for fomenting violence in Iraq.

''It could be any time now,'' said the official.

He said action seemed to have ''slowed down'' at the United Nations, ahead of a November report by Solana on Iran and a desire to see whether Tehran cooperated with inspectors from the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency.

''We are now at a point where it will be some time before we will get that momentum moving again and so we are looking at the continued list'' of US actions, the official said.

He also said the United States was convinced of Putin's support for more punitive measures against Iran, adding that the Russian leader made commitments in meetings with President George W. Bush during a summit in Australia in September.

Asked whether Britain would support military action against Iran, Miliband said: ''I think the hypothetical end of this (military action) is not where we should go. I think our clear priority is to make the diplomatic work that is ongoing deliver.'' REUTERS GL HS2249

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