"They have agreed to start," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told The New York Times in an interview. "Talking about the substance is a new step forward." The negotiations also would include Germany.
China had been opposing any new sanctions on Iran, but Kouchner's comments Wednesday related to Beijing's agreeing to enter into negotiations with other four permanent Security Council members and Germany on language in a resolution on new sanctions because of Iran's failure to comply with international regulations governing nuclear programs. Iran has insisted its program is only for developing peaceful uses of nuclear energy, but the United States and its supporters say it is for developing nuclear weapons.
The negotiations had made little progress thus far as China had been insisting on relying more on diplomacy.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN Wednesday the Chinese agreement to enter into negotiations represents progress.
Rice said all of the evidence indicates the Iranian nuclear program is not as the Iranians state as "there is a military element to it."
A day earlier, U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy had jointly called for tougher U.N. sanctions on Iran.
The Voice of America, quoting officials, said the United States, Britain, France and Russia -- the other Security Council permanent members along with Germany -- had reached agreement with China during a conference call.
The New York Times quoted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as saying Wednesday all the permanent members were now "unified" and that "a great deal of further consultation" would occur in the coming weeks.
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