China says "technical reason" for Iran meet no-show

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BEIJING, Nov 19 (Reuters) China today said it could not attend an international meeting on Iran due purely to technical reasons and not because of any political rift.

China dealt a blow to Western efforts to increase pressure on Iran by dropping out of a meeting today that had been expected to discuss tougher sanctions on Iran.

Officials from Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China were due to meet to assess a UN nuclear watchdog report about Iran's nuclear programme, which Western powers say is intended to make atomic weapons.

Iran says its programme is peaceful.

China had indicated long ago that it would be difficult to attend, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters.

''It wasn't a political issue, but a technical problem,'' Liu said of reports linking the decision to Chinese resistance to sanctions.

Liu, speaking at a news conference ahead of a China-EU summit next week, repeated China's stance that dialogue and consultation were the way to go, not sanctions, but he urged Iran to do more.

''At this moment, Iran should take seriously and positively respond to these internation concerns,'' he said.

REUTERS SYU KP1421

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