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. China backs Iran amid 'difficult' nuclear talks with EU
TEHRAN (AFP) Nov 06, 2004
China gave Iran crucial backing on Saturday in its stand-off with the UN's nuclear watchdog, with Beijing saying it opposed US 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," Li said at a press conference with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharazi.

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

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 US Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw "that China supports a solution in framework of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)".

The United States accuses Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of its civilian atomic energy program and wants the UN watchdog, the IAEA, to take Tehran to the UN Security Council when the agency meets in Vienna on November 25.

Tehran denies that charge, 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 there by the IAEA. Moscow is helping Iran build its first nuclear power plant in a deal worth some 800 million dollars.

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.

The sensitive part of the fuel cycle 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 its right to maintain a civilian nuclear power programme.

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.

Europe's three 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.

But according to Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Iranian and European Union officials were sticking to their positions on key questions in the negotiations underway on Saturday in Paris.

"The two sides are sticking to their positions on the fundamental questions," Hassan Rowhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told state television.

He described the talks in Paris, which began Friday, as "very complicated and difficult" and reiterated Iran's refusal to give up what Tehran sees as its right to master the sensitive nuclear fuel cycle including enrichment.

"We will not accept any constraint. It is us who will decide on the duration (of a suspension of enrichment) and we will will keep it in place for as long as we want," Rowhani said.

A close aide to Rowhani engaged in the Paris talks, Hossein Moussavian, told state television here that Iran wanted the Europeans to define a rapid timetable for talks in the near future in return for the continuation of an enrichment suspension.

He said Iran was not interested in "open ended" dialogue on the issue, which has already dragged on for 18 months, and said topics needed to cover "economic, political, security and technology" cooperation between Iran and the EU.

He also said Iran was expecting the EU to back its bid to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO), something that the US has been blocking.

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