China yesterday took a more prominent role in efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear drive and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) announced that he would go to a major anti-proliferation summit in Washington this month.
While a top US official said China had agreed to “serious negotiations” on new UN sanctions, however, the Chinese government said it was working for a “peaceful resolution” of the nuclear standoff.
Iran sent its top nuclear negotiator to Beijing and described the talk of new international action as an empty threat.
The presence of Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, in Beijing highlighted China’s role in the tense UN Security Council debate on Iran’s uranium enrichment.
The US and its allies suspect the program is part of a drive to develop a nuclear bomb.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel held telephone talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) on Iran, her office said.
While Western nations are stepping up pressure for sanctions, however, China is sticking to its insistence on more talks.
“On the Iranian nuclear issue, China will continue to endeavor toward a peaceful resolution,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang (秦剛) told reporters.
“We have always and will continue to push for a peaceful settlement of this issue,” Qin said, adding that the crisis should be resolved by “diplomatic means.”
Qin said Jalili would meet Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔箎) and other Chinese officials. Qin also announced that Hu would attend US President Barack Obama’s nuclear security summit in Washington from April 12 to April 13. The visit would be a chance for the two powers to ease tensions that have mounted in recent months and discuss Iran. Obama said on Tuesday he wanted a fourth round of UN sanctions agreed upon within weeks.
China, one of five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council, has repeatedly called for a negotiated settlement, rather than new punitive action.
But the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, signaled a shift in China’s attitude on Iran.
“China has agreed to sit down and begin serious negotiations here in New York,” Rice told CNN on Wednesday.
“This is progress, but the negotiations have yet to begin in earnest,” Rice said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton predicted on Tuesday that the Security Council would reach a consensus on new sanctions.
“We see a growing awareness on the part of many countries including China as to the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran to regional and global stability, to our oil supply,” she said. “We think that there will be a consensus reached as to the best way forward.”
China has a close diplomatic and trade relationship with Iran, dominated by its imports of Iranian energy resources, and its position remains key to the future of the long-running standoff.
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