Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili heads to China on Thursday for talks with the government that could hold the key to whether Tehran faces a fresh round of United Nations sanctions.
Jalili has been invited by Dai Bingguo, a senior Chinese diplomat who serves as a State Councilor advising top leaders on foreign policy, the official Chinese Xinhua news agency reported, citing an Iranian television report.
The Iranian envoy’s visit comes during a push by the United States and other Western powers to win China’s assent for a proposed new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran, which they say wants the means to make nuclear weapons and has violated atomic safeguard rules.
Iran says its nuclear activities are for peaceful ends.
As one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, Beijing has the power to veto any resolution, and its top diplomats have repeatedly said they are reluctant to put new sanctions on Iran, a big supplier of crude oil to China.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not publicly commented on Jalili’s visit nor has it said whether it would back new sanctions. Beijing has backed previous U.N. resolutions on Iran.
“China opposes Iran possessing nuclear weapons, but at the same time we believe that, as a sovereign state, Iran has the right to peacefully develop nuclear energy,” a Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday.
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he wanted tougher U.N. sanctions against Iran, and leading industrial nations expressed optimism that China would go along.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that the group of six world powers negotiating possible sanctions on Iran “continues to be unified.”]
Those “P5+1” powers — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — agreed on Wednesday to start drawing up possible new sanctions on Iran in the next few days.
Analysts have said Beijing will push to ensure any possible sanctions do not threaten its energy and trade ties with Iran.
In 2009, Iran was the third-biggest foreign supplier of crude oil to China, the world’s second-biggest consumer of oil after the United States.