China wants more dialogue on Iran nuclear issue
BEIJING (AP) — China said Thursday its support for new U.N. nuclear sanctions against Iran should not block efforts to find a diplomatic solution, and called for renewed negotiations.
China is a key ally of Iran and could have vetoed the resolution approved Wednesday that targets Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, ballistic missiles and nuclear-related investments.
It had been a vocal opponent of a fourth round of sanctions and its support came about only in recent months after intense lobbying by the United States and its allies.
Beijing's backing of the resolution was aimed at ensuring respect for the nuclear nonproliferation regime and steering Iran back to the negotiating table, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters at a regularly scheduled news conference.
"China has repeated on many occasions that the resolution adopted by the U.N. Security Council does not mean that the door to diplomatic efforts is closed," Qin said.
"We also call on the international community to step up their diplomatic efforts so as to seek a long-term, proper and comprehensive settlement of this issue," he said.
In New York, China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong said Wednesday that the sanctions would not affect "the normal life of the Iranian people" or deter normal trade activity — China's chief conditions for supporting the measures.
It wasn't clear what affect the vote would have on relations between Tehran and Beijing. Russia, which also reversed its former opposition and backed sanctions, has already been on the receiving end of Iranian ire, with the country's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warning Russian leaders last month "to correct themselves, and not let the Iranian nation consider them among its enemies."
Ahmadinejad was set to arrive in China later Thursday to tour the World Expo in Shanghai, but he was not expected to hold talks with senior Chinese leaders. He also skipped Thursday's summit in Uzbekistan of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization attended by Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Beijing appeared to have been satisfied that the sanctions would not harm its economic ties with Iran, trade with whom reached at least $36.5 billion last year. China is a major exporter of consumer goods and machinery to Iran and Chinese companies also have major investments in Iranian energy extraction projects and the construction of roads, bridges and power plants.
China depends on oil- and gas-rich Iran for 11 percent of its energy needs and last year became Tehran's biggest trading partner, according to Iranian figures.
"China, as a friendly ally to Iran, made maximum efforts to protect the interest of Iran in the resolution," said Yao Jide, an Iran expert at Yunnan University's School of International Relations.
The new sanctions weren't expected to have a major effect on trade or political ties between the countries, he said.
"Some hardline officials may make some statements critical of China, but the government definitely wouldn't dare to take measures that would affect China and Iran's cooperation," Yao said. "Economically, it wouldn't be able to withstand a blow like that. Iran needs to ensure its energy exports."
Beijing has said it opposes nuclear weapons for Iran but supports an Iranian civilian nuclear energy program. China traditionally opposes sanctions, but it went along with the first three sanctions resolutions against Iran.
Tehran insists its program is peaceful. The U.S. and its allies say Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons; they want Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and start negotiations aimed at ensuring that it uses nuclear technology only for peaceful purposes.
Western analysts had warned that China's refusal to back sanctions risked denting its international reputation at a time when it is seeking a global leadership role.
Relations might have been harmed with crucial trading partners in the European Union, while Washington — for which the Middle East is a foreign policy linchpin — could have retaliated with further arms sales to Taiwan, or by withdrawing support for Chinese interests in Iraqi oil contracts and Afghan copper mining.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen and researcher Xi Yue in Beijing contributed to this report.