China favours diplomacy over Iranian nuclear issue

Senior US and Chinese officials today discussed how best to deal with Iran’s nuclear programme even as China indicated a preference for diplomacy not UN sanctions against Tehran.

Senior US and Chinese officials today discussed how best to deal with Iran’s nuclear programme even as China indicated a preference for diplomacy not UN sanctions against Tehran.

Visiting US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said he and Chinese leaders talked about the matter, calling it “a very important dimension of our work with China.”

Europe stopped talks after Iran resumed uranium enrichment research earlier this month. The West fears the research will lead to nuclear weapons, while Iran insists it’s only for civilian use.

The US, Britain, France and Germany have drawn up a draft International Atomic Energy Agency resolution that would ask the UN Security Council to press Tehran “to extend full and prompt co-operation to the agency” in its investigation of suspect nuclear activities – though it stops short of asking the council to impose sanctions.

China is one of five veto-wielding members of the UN council.

“We are making careful study of this draft resolution,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan at a regular news briefing.

“We still believe that diplomacy remains a good choice to solve the Iranian nuclear question.”

“We hope related parties can exercise restraint and patience to exert their utmost efforts to bring the Iranian nuclear question back on the track of negotiations and to create conditions for a proper solution at an early date,” Kong said.

Zoellick, on a one-day visit to Beijing, said he discussed the Iranian nuclear issue with Chinese officials today, and called the subject “a very important dimension of our work with China.”

He met with Premier Wen Jiabao, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and other leaders.

Zoellick said there was “no discussion” of a Chinese veto of the resolution. Instead, the two sides focused on “a common set of interests and concerns,” he said.

“What we are trying to talk about is how to achieve this most effectively,” Zoellick said. “It’s a question of diplomatic tactics.”

Beijing has expressed concern over Iran’s decision to restart its nuclear programme. However, China also has huge energy needs and, because it has Security Council veto power, could block harsh punishment against Iran, a major oil producer.

The International Atomic Energy Agency – the UN nuclear watchdog – announced last Wednesday that a special meeting of its 35-nation board of governors would be held on February 2. The US, France, Britain and Germany had requested the meeting to refer Iran to the Security Council.

European allies are expected to concentrate on building support among countries with a vote on the IAEA board.

Diplomats say London, Paris and Berlin are confident they have enough votes to support a referral but Russia and China – as well as Egypt, which also sits on the board – are reluctant.

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