China minister heads to Iran for nuclear talks

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BEIJING, Nov 12 (Reuters) Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi will go to Iran for talks on Tehran's nuclear dispute, officials said today, underscoring the growing pressure on Beijing to help end the standoff.

Yang would visit tomorrow for meetings with senior officials, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters.

As Iran contends with Western powers over Tehran's nuclear activities, China has found itself caught between the two sides' rival expectations.

The West accuses Iran of seeking the ability to make nuclear weapons but Tehran says its atomic programme is purely for the civilian purpose of generating electricity.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week his country's nuclear programme was irreversible, showing continued defiance in the face of possible new UN sanctions.

Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China are expected to meet on November 19 to assess reports on Iran from EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei.

With a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, China holds the power to pass or veto possible new sanctions on Iran.

Beijing approved two previous UN resolutions pressing Iran, but Chinese officials also say that they do not favour sanctions as a diplomatic tool and want more negotiation.

China also has big economic stakes in Iran that it is reluctant to sacrifice. Iran is China's third biggest supplier of imported crude oil, behind Angola and Saudi Arabia.

REUTERS RJ DS1152

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