China urges talks, not sanctions, to deal with Iran

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BEIJING, Nov 15 (Reuters) Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear energy programme and is not seeking atomic weapons, China said today, while urging talks to resolve the dispute over Tehran's nuclear intentions.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran earlier this week, during which the two countries vowed to boost ties.

That pledge is likely to irritate Western powers, who are pressuring China -- a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council -- to agree to tougher sanctions on oil-producing Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

''Yang said China believes that Iran has the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy and appreciated Iran's reiteration that it does not have the intention to develop nuclear weapons,'' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference.

China has consistently said that sanctions are not the way to resolve the dispute, but has also called on Iran to be more compromising in cooperating with Western powers and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Today, Liu repeated China's call to Iran to cooperate with the IAEA and to strengthen contact with the European Union.

Washington, which says Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, has been pressing for tougher sanctions, but Liu would not comment directly on the US handling of the issue.

''Countries must deal with their differences based on mutual respect and equality and following the principle of international law,'' he said.

''I believe the international community must decide the purpose of Iran's nuclear plans through peaceful negotiation.'' REUTERS JT BD1351

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