China could play a crucial role in defusing the Iranian nuclear dispute by supporting tougher sanctions against Tehran, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said yesterday during a visit to Beijing.
In a speech at the People's University of China, Livni said pressure needed to be intensified before Iran mastered the means to produce nuclear weapons.
"China on this has a crucial role as a member of the Security Council of the United Nations," she said, adding that past efforts to impose sanctions had been diluted by compromise.
China, the four other permanent UN Security Council members and Germany are preparing to discuss a possible new resolution that Western powers want to authorize intensified sanctions against Tehran.
China agreed to two earlier rounds of Security Council sanctions against Tehran but, like Russia, has said it fears additional sanctions demanded by Washington and other Western powers will exacerbate tensions.
Iran has shrugged off earlier sanctions, insisting its nuclear programme is peaceful.
"The nature of sanctions can only work if it is, and if they are, concrete, important to the other side and being taken by the international community in consensus," Livni told the audience of students and academics.
Livni also said China could play a positive role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by encouraging other Middle Eastern states to the table and encouraging what she called "moderates" in the process.
Livni's visit came in a week highlighting China's growing but still cautious role in the volatile Middle East. Jordan's King Abdullah was set to arrive in Beijing yesterday for a visit that will also address Middle Eastern conflicts.
While keeping solid ties with Israel, Beijing has sought to maintain strong ties with other Middle Eastern states that are traditional partners or supply much of its imported oil.
Iran is China's third biggest supplier of imported crude oil, behind Angola and Saudi Arabia.
Livny's visit came on the heels of a trip to Europe last week by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts with French and British leaders and push for new UN sanctions against Iran.
Olmert earlier in the month made a snap visit to Moscow to press his case.
Israel maintains that Iran is a threat to its existence and has hinted it could strike militarily if the international community allows Iran to develop nuclear arms.
The Israeli diplomatic drive also came amid international pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a common vision of a final peace deal before a Middle East peace conference, expected to take place in the US later this year.
The Palestinians want a detailed joint statement on what peace talks are to produce, complete with a timetable for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Israel, seeking greater flexibility, wants a broad statement without many specific commitments.
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