Iranian official continues nuclear talks in China

Tehran's top nuclear negotiator has met with senior officials in Beijing for a second day after US reports that China had dropped its opposition to possible new UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.

Saeed Jalili met with Wang Jiarui, the head of the Communist Party's international affairs office.

Today's meeting came a day after China would not confirm US reports that it had dropped its opposition to possible new sanctions against Iran.

Chinese support for new sanctions is important to the United States, and President Barack Obama brought the issue up when he spoke for an hour today with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, welcoming his decision to attend a nuclear security summit in Washington in less than two weeks.

Following the meeting, Jalili side-stepped questions on whether China had confirmed to him it had changed its opposition to a fourth round of UN sanctions against Tehran.

He maintained that both Iran and China sought a return to the negotiating table.

"(Our) Chinese friends all say this problem can only be solved through negotiations and peaceful means. And some big countries should give up their incorrect actions. Pressuring through sanctions will be ineffective," he said.

China has veto power in the UN Security Council and its support would be key to passing a resolution against Iran, which is suspected of developing nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful power generation.

"Negotiations should be conducted with logic, not with pressure. If negotiations and pressure occur at the same time, there's no way these negotiations can go forward," Jalili said.

China has refused to confirm reports that it was willing to consider new sanctions. Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said yesterday that Beijing was "concerned about the current situation" but repeated the country's stance of wanting the dispute settled through negotiations.

In a statement about Mr Obama's discussion with the Chinese president, the White House said: "Obama underscored the importance of working together to ensure that Iran lives up to its international obligations."

China depends on oil and gas-rich Iran for 11% of its energy needs and last year became Tehran's biggest trading partner, according to Iranian figures.

China traditionally opposes sanctions. Although it went along with three earlier UN sanctions resolutions against Iran, Beijing has been a vocal opponent of a fourth round, insisting that further negotiations with Tehran were needed.

But US officials say a Chinese representative made a commitment in a phone call on Wednesday with officials of the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to discuss specifics of a potential Security Council resolution, and that on that basis the US would press ahead with an effort to pass such a measure.

The officials cautioned that this does not mean there is a full consensus yet on UN sanctions.

The Obama administration is hoping to get a UN resolution on Iran passed by the end of April.

According to well-informed UN diplomats, the proposed new sanctions would target Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard and toughen existing measures against Iran's shipping, banking and insurance sectors.