China minister heads to Iran for nuclear talks

BEIJING Mon Nov 12, 2007 1:26am EST

China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi waits before the start of a bilateral meeting in Manila August 1, 2007. Yang will go to Iran for talks on Tehran's nuclear dispute, officials said on Monday, underscoring the growing pressure on Beijing to help end the standoff. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi waits before the start of a bilateral meeting in Manila August 1, 2007. Yang will go to Iran for talks on Tehran's nuclear dispute, officials said on Monday, underscoring the growing pressure on Beijing to help end the standoff.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Whiteside

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi will go to Iran for talks on Tehran's nuclear dispute, officials said on Monday, underscoring the growing pressure on Beijing to help end the standoff.

Yang would visit on Tuesday for meetings with senior officials, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters.

As Iran contends with Western powers over Tehran's nuclear activities, China has found itself caught between the two sides' rival expectations.

The West accuses Iran of seeking the ability to make nuclear weapons but Tehran says its atomic program is purely for the civilian purpose of generating electricity.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week his country's nuclear program was irreversible, showing continued defiance in the face of possible new U.N. sanctions.

Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China are expected to meet on November 19 to assess reports on Iran from EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei.

With a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, China holds the power to pass or veto possible new sanctions on Iran.

Beijing approved two previous U.N. resolutions pressing Iran, but Chinese officials also say that they do not favor sanctions as a diplomatic tool and want more negotiation.

China also has big economic stakes in Iran that it is reluctant to sacrifice. Iran is China's third biggest supplier of imported crude oil, behind Angola and Saudi Arabia.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley, editing by Nick Macfie and Sanjeev Miglani)

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