Beijing, Oct 11: Six-country talks that have nudged North Korea towards nuclear disarmament could be a model for defusing a standoff with Iran, but Washington appears set on a different path, an official Chinese newspaper said today.
In the overseas edition of the People's Daily - the ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece - China's former ambassador to Iran said six-party negotiations hosted by Beijing set an example for engaging Tehran, which is pressing ahead with nuclear development that Western powers say could give it weapons capability.
After North Korea agreed on October 3 to disable key nuclear facilities and declare all atomic activities by the end of 2007, US President George W. Bush also held up North Korea as a possible example for concessions by Iran.
But Ambassador Hua Liming drew a lesson very different from Bush's. He suggested that ending the Iran nuclear standoff required that Washington negotiate directly with Iran, even if Tehran continues uranium enrichment the United Nations has told it to halt.
Hua said that step appeared unlikely.
''Both involve nuclear issues and both have been seen by the United States as part of an 'axis of evil', but US attitudes towards North Korea and Iran vastly differ,'' Hua wrote.
Cautious Beijing diplomats are reluctant to offer their detailed views of what may happen over Iran, but Hua's comments offered some insight into official thinking - and fears.
For the United States, the nuclear dispute was merely an ''entry point'' for its ultimate goal of overturning Iran's Islamic government, said Hua, who is now attached to a think tank under the Chinese foreign ministry.
''The United States has three options for Iran: negotiations, sanctions and armed force,'' he wrote.
''Clearly, the United States is not interested in negotiations and is more inclined to the latter two options.'' China has repeatedly said it opposes using force to address Iran's nuclear ambitions but has backed two rounds of limited UN sanctions over Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment and other work that could be used to make nuclear weapons.
Iran says its nuclear activities are for peaceful ends only. Beijing has also been careful to maintain ties with Tehran, which is an important oil supplier and major market for Chinese companies.