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China asserts Iran's right to civilian nuclear use

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Beijing, Sep 17: Iran has the right to harness nuclear energy for civilian use but should abide by its international commitments on the issue, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in comments published today.

Yang's remarks come a day after state media carried comments by Premier Wen Jiabao urging Iran to show more flexibility on its nuclear programme.

''Iran has the right to use nuclear energy peacefully,'' the official Xinhua news agency cited Yang as saying yesterday at a summit of Non-Aligned Movement nations in Havana, which China attended as an observer.

Echoing Wen's comments, Yang said that the Iranian nuclear issue was at a critical stage, but that there was still hope for a negotiated settlement to the standoff.

''All parties concerned should take constructive steps and show flexibility to resume dialogue and negotiation at an early date,'' Xinhua quoted Yang as saying.

Tehran ignored an August. 31 UN Security Council deadline to halt uranium enrichment, which Iran says is for civilian energy use but which Western powers fear will be used for making weapons.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has been negotiating with Iran on behalf of the world's major powers, but Washington is pushing for a move toward sanctions if there is no breakthrough soon.

US and EU diplomats told Reuters yesterday that major powers were considering a joint meeting with Iran next week that would exclude the United States, as a way of bridging the divide over its nuclear programme.

China, which wields veto power on the Security Council, is wary of sanctions and has long urged a diplomatic solution.

Yang also called for an early resumption of six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue, urging the nations involved to show greater flexibility and avoid taking any action that would ''increase tension and exacerbate the situation'', Xinhua said.

The talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programme broke down in late 2005 with Pyongyang demanding an end to US financial restrictions driven by accusations that the isolated state counterfeited dollars and traded in illegal drugs.

China hosts the talks, which are also attended by North and South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia.

Reuters

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