Israel says China can play key role in Iran dispute

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BEIJING, Oct 29 (Reuters) China could play a crucial role in defusing the Iranian nuclear dispute by supporting tougher sanctions against Tehran, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said today during a trip to Beijing.

In a speech at the People's University of China, Livni said pressure needed to be intensified before Iran mastered the means to produce nuclear weapons.

''China on this has a crucial role as a member of the Security Council of the United Nations,'' she said, adding that past efforts to impose sanctions had been diluted by compromise.

China, the four other permanent UN Security Council members -- the United States, Russia, France and Britain -- and Germany are preparing to discuss a possible new resolution that Western powers want to authorise intensified sanctions against Tehran.

China agreed to two earlier rounds of Security Council sanctions against Tehran but, like Russia, has said it fears additional sanctions demanded by Washington and other Western powers will exacerbate tensions.

Iran has shrugged off earlier sanctions, insisting its nuclear programme is peaceful.

''The nature of sanctions can only work if it is, and if they are, concrete, important to the other side and being taken by the international community in consensus,'' Livni told the audience of students and academics.

Livni also said China could play a positive role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by encouraging other Middle Eastern states to the table and encouraging what she called ''moderates'' in the process.

Livni's visit comes in a week highlighting China's growing but still cautious role in the volatile Middle East. Jordan's King Abdullah arrives in Beijing today for a visit that will also address West Asian conflicts.

While keeping solid ties with Israel, Beijing has sought to maintain strong ties with other West Asian states that are traditional partners or supply much of its imported oil.

Iran is China's third biggest supplier of imported crude oil, behind Angola and Saudi Arabia.

REUTERS SYU HS1346

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