China stuck to its long-held position Thursday that Iran's nuclear question should be resolved through negotiations and not be brought before the U.N. Security Council. The statement comes as diplomats gathered in Vienna on Thursday for a 35-nation meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, with the European Union expected to warn Iran to change its nuclear ways or face the threat of referral to the Security Council.
"We have a consistent position on the Iranian nuclear issue," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao at a routine briefing.
"For the current stage, we should seek a proper solution within the framework of the IAEA," Liu said. "We don't think it is appropriate now to refer this question to the U.N. Security Council."
At issue is Iran's refusal to give up its right to enrich uranium, which can be used to generate power but also to make weapons-grade material for nuclear warheads. Iran says it wants only to make fuel, but international concern is growing that the program could be misused.
For months, Iran has relied on Beijing and Moscow to fend off a U.S.-backed push to have it hauled before the U.N. Security Council. Currently, Iran's enrichment program is frozen. But negotiations between Iran and France, Britain and Germany, the so-called "EU-3", broke off in August after Iran restarted a linked activity, the conversion of raw uranium into the gas that is used as the feed stock in enrichment.
Liu said China hoped to see "the early restoration of negotiations between Iran and the EU-3 so as to seek a long-term solution acceptable to all parties." Diplomats gathering for the IAEA meeting told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that the European Union would likely directly mention the threat of referral in a statement listing recent IAEA findings that have added to concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions and urging it to end foot-dragging that has hampered IAEA inspectors. I.L.