BEIJING,(Reuters) – China and Iran expressed support for a Russian proposal to resolve Tehran’s nuclear standoff on Thursday, with China saying it opposed sanctions or the threat of sanctions.
Top Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, on a one-day trip to Beijing seeking China’s support, said the Russian proposal — that uranium be enriched on Russian soil — needed further discussion.
“The Russian suggestion is a useful one, but needs to be discussed further,” Ali Larijani told a news conference in Beijing.
He told Reuters later that Iran was willing to show flexibility on the issue, but rejected the “language of force”, an apparent reference to the threat of sanctions.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a news conference earlier that China wanted other countries to consider the Russian proposal which is aimed at preventing Iran gaining technology that could be used for military purposes.
“We oppose impulsively using sanctions or threats of sanctions to solve problems. This will complicate problems,” Kong said.
Earlier this month, Iran removed U.N. seals on uranium enrichment equipment and resumed nuclear fuel research. It says it does not want nuclear weapons, and has the right to enrich uranium at home.
The United States and its European Union allies, who fear Iran might move to developing nuclear weapons, say the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should turn Iran over to the United Nations’ Security Council.
In Moscow on Wednesday, Larijani said referring Iran’s nuclear activities to the U.N. Security Council would prompt Tehran to start uranium enrichment. But he also signalled interest in the Russian plan.
Chinese spokesman Kong said Russia’s offer should be seriously considered. “We think the Russian proposal is a good attempt to break this stalemate,” Kong said.
Larijani held morning-long talks with Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and met State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan in the afternoon.
“We have the same idea that these issues should be considered by the IAEA and in a peaceful manner,” Larijani said.
Russia and China wield veto power in the U.N. Security Council along with the three other permanent members the United States, Britain and France.
China is also hosting stop-start six-party talks, including Russia and the United States, aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
Kong said all the countries involved should “intensify diplomatic efforts” to broker a solution before the IAEA meets on Feb. 2 to debate sending Iran to the Security Council.
The Council’s veto-wielding permanent members plus Germany plan to meet in London on Monday to try to resolve differences over what to do about Iran.
Larijani’s visit came just a day after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick left China following a three-day visit.
On Wednesday, Zoellick gave a positive assessment of China’s role in the nuclear stand-off, saying Washington and Beijing had no major differences on the issue. Kong, the Chinese spokesman, declined to directly endorse that assessment, simply repeating Beijing’s general stance.
Analysts say despite its objections, China would be more likely to abstain from a vote than use its veto. But Kong said Iran should have the right to peaceful nuclear power.
“All Non-Proliferation Treaty countries’ rights to peacefully use nuclear power should be respected, but we must emphasise that these countries should also strictly abide by the relevant regulations,” he said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has said that if sent to the Security Council, his country would immediately halt voluntary dealings with the IAEA, which include snap checks on its atomic sites.
Mottaki urged Britain, France and Germany to renew talks they halted this month after Iran resumed its nuclear fuel research.
Kong said China has received no “formal invitation” from Iran to take part in the kind of compromise Russia proposed.
“We hope all sides will use their wisdom to provide new proposals that will create conditions for reviving negotiations,” he said.