- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 6, 2004

TEHRAN — China gave Iran crucial backing yesterday in its standoff with the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, with Beijing saying it opposed U.S. efforts to have the Islamic republic referred to the United Nations Security Council.

The comments from Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing came as officials from Britain, France and Germany were trying to persuade Iran to limit its sensitive nuclear activities or risk possible international sanctions.

“There is no reason to send the issue to the Security Council,” Mr. Li said at a press conference with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi.

“It would only make the issue more complicated and difficult to work out,” Mr. Li said, contradicting Washington by saying “the Iranian government is having a very positive attitude in its cooperation” with the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Mr. Li refused to speculate on whether China would use its veto in the Security Council in the event of Iran’s case being sent there.

He did say he had told U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw “that China supports a solution in framework of the IAEA.”

The United States accuses Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of its civilian atomic energy program. It wants the IAEA to refer the dispute to the Security Council when the IAEA board meets in Vienna, Austria, on Nov. 25.

Tehran denies the charges, insisting it only wants to generate electricity.

Russia, another permanent and veto-wielding Security Council member, has also voiced its strong opposition to Iran’s case being referred to the United Nations. Moscow is helping Iran build its first nuclear power plant in a deal worth some $800 million.

Mr. Li’s comments added yet another layer of diplomatic difficulty for the European Union, which is using a “carrot and stick” approach with Iran in a bid to get it to suspend uranium enrichment.

In Paris, the meeting between Iran and the big European powers — France, Britain and Germany — is taking place behind closed doors, under a news blackout.

Enrichment is the sensitive part of the fuel cycle because it makes fuel for civilian reactors but it can also be used to manufacture the material for the explosive core of atomic weapons.

Tehran has until now resisted Europe’s demand for an indefinite suspension, arguing that it would infringe on its right to maintain a civilian nuclear power program.

Enrichment is permitted under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — the treaty overseen by the IAEA and to which Iran is a signatory — if for peaceful purposes.

The three European powers are offering Iran nuclear technology, including access to nuclear fuel, increased trade and help with Tehran’s regional security concerns if the Islamic republic halts enrichment.

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