Israeli foreign minister to lobby China over Iran

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JERUSALEM, Oct 28 (Reuters) Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni flew to China today to lobby for tougher international sanctions against Iran's nuclear programme, officials said.

China agreed to passing two rounds of UN Security Council sanctions against Tehran but, like Russia, has voiced a preference for pursuing negotiations with the Iranians. This view has put it at odds with more hawkish Western powers.

Livni's visit to Beijing comes as political directors from China and the four other permanent Security Council members -- the United States, Russia, France and Britain -- as well as Germany prepare to discuss a possible new resolution this week.

Iran has shrugged off the sanctions, insisting its nuclear programme is peaceful. But Tehran's open hostility to Israel has fuelled foreign concern that the Jewish state, believed to have the region's only atomic arsenal, could resort to military strikes to deny its arch-foe the means for making a bomb.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Livni, who also heads a team preparing for US-sponsored peace conference with the Palestinians, would hold talks with senior Chinese government officials on tomorow and Tuesday.

''Issues on the agenda are the Iranian proliferation issue, the (Israeli-Palestinian) peace process, and Chinese-Israeli bilateral issues,'' a Foreign Ministry official said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Beijing in January.

He made quick trips to London, Paris and Moscow this month to press the Iranian issue. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak also discussed Iran during strategic talks in Washington.

China, which established ties with Israel in 1992, depends on Iran for some 12 per cent of its crude oil imports.

Reuters SS GC1506

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