Russia, China have blocked tough Iran sanctions - US

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VIENNA, Nov 1 (Reuters) The United States said today Russia and China had been blocking tough UN sanctions against Iran for months and pledged a drive to impose them if Iran did not halt nuclear activity within two weeks.

Iran's president said he was ''not worried at all'' about broader economic sanctions, dismissing them as ineffective.

Nicholas Burns, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, said China and Russia had been stalling a new United Nations Security Council resolution since late March.

The five permanent powers on the UN Security Council plus Germany will meet in London tomorrow to weigh broader sanctions. Increased sabre-rattling between Iran and Washington is stirring fears of war if diplomatic pressure fails.

Burns, in Vienna for consultations with the UN nuclear watchdog chief, said Iran had been given a grace period since the last UN resolution on March 24.

''Russia and China have been effectively blocking a third resolution since then,'' he told reporters. Moscow and Beijing, two of the five veto-holders on the Council and major trade partners of Iran, have insisted on more time for diplomacy.

Western powers agreed in September to delay seeking harsher sanctions after Iran agreed a deal with the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to answer questions about past secrets of its nuclear work within several months.

The Vienna-based IAEA will issue a report in mid-November.

Burns said a clean bill of health from the IAEA alone would not spare Iran from exposure to stiffer UN penalties.

''Our judgment is that if Iran has not suspended in the next couple of weeks, that's not sufficient, it will remain a refusal to meet Security Council requirements. That will be a highly relevant factor for us,'' he said.

''Our hope is the following: first, a third sanctions resolution will be passed as soon as possible. Second, we'd very much support seeing the EU go forward with (its own) sanctions.

Third, major trading partners of Iran should reduce trade to show Iran that this is not business as usual.'' AHMADINEJAD DEFIANT Iran has defied three Council resolutions, two with modest sanctions attached, since last year demanding it stop enriching uranium. Iran says it wants nuclear-generated electricity, but Western powers suspect a disguised bid to build atom bombs.

Burns said Washington had taken issue with past remarks by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei suggesting sanctions would not work and that Iran had come too far in developing enrichment ability for the West to expect it would be mothballed.

But he said after a 90-minute meeting with ElBaradei, that the two agreed Security Council pressure was an integral part of efforts to change Iranian behaviour.

''We agreed that we do support going ahead with the third sanctions resolution should Iran not suspend.'' ElBaradei had no comment.

Tension over Iran's nuclear activities has helped catapault oil prices to record highs of over a barrels in recent days.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday that Iran would respond to any hostile action against it. Iran's Revolutionary Guards commander warned the United States on Wednesday it would find itself in a ''quagmire deeper than Iraq'' if it attacked.

Ahmadinejad suggested fresh bilateral US sanctions announced last week would mainly hurt European Union countries doing business with Iran, which has major oil and gas reserves.

''The weapon of sanctions does not work,'' Ahmadinejad said in a speech inaugurating a petrochemical plant on Iran's Gulf coast on Thursday. ''We are not worried at all.'' ''The main thing they (the United States) are doing is spending from others' pockets because American companies don't have any business in Iran,'' Ahmadinejad said.

REUTERS PJ BD1845

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