Reuters: Israel’s prime minister, on the last leg of a lobbying mission among veto-wielding U.N. Security Council nations, met Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday to argue Iran’s nuclear plans could destabilise the Middle East.
By Dan Williams
BEIJING (Reuters) – Israel’s prime minister, on the last leg of a lobbying mission among veto-wielding U.N. Security Council nations, met Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday to argue Iran’s nuclear plans could destabilise the Middle East.
China closed ranks with Western powers last month in a Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Tehran that could be stepped up if Iran ignores a 60-day deadline to stop enriching uranium, a process that could be used to make nuclear warheads.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s aides said that in his meeting with Hu he hoped to hear a Chinese pledge to keep up pressure on Iran, which insists its atomic ambitions are peaceful but whose virulent rhetoric against Israel has raised war fears abroad.
“This summit is the finale, and judging by what we’ve heard so far, we’re confident,” a senior aide told Reuters.
Olmert, whose country is widely assumed to have the region’s only atomic arsenal and who has refused to rule out military strikes as a last resort for denying Iran the bomb, was upbeat on Wednesday after talks with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
“I heard surprising things — things both positive and unexpected,” Olmert told reporters. “China made it absolutely clear that it opposes Iran going nuclear, in the sense of obtaining nuclear bombs.”
China’s Xinhua news agency quoted Wen as telling Olmert that “China will continue to play a constructive role in promoting the (diplomatic) settlement of the (Iran) issue”.
Like fellow Security Council veto-wielder Russia, China has voiced a preference for pursuing negotiations with Iran, which supplies 12 percent of China’s crude oil imports.
That approach has put Beijing at odds with Washington and some Europeans and led to a watered-down sanctions Resolution 1737 passed unanimously by the Security Council on Dec. 23.
NOT TOUGH ENOUGH
Some diplomats say the current sanctions are probably not tough enough or broad enough to rein in Iran, but they say Tehran might face harsher action if it does not stop enriching uranium by the deadline.
Olmert visited Washington last year, as well as Britain, France and Russia, the other permanent Security Council members.
Olmert’s three-day China trip came after Iran’s nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani visited Beijing last week.
Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Larijani as saying Tehran remained committed to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which assures signatories the right to develop nuclear fuel for energy purposes but bans bomb-making.
“But if we were further threatened, our conditions too would be subject to alterations,” he said.
Israel has been taking its time in its approaches towards China, which broke with the West last year by engaging militant Islamic group Hamas after it swept Palestinian elections. Hamas’s charter advocates the Jewish state’s destruction.
Hamas supreme leader Khaled Meshaal told Reuters in Damascus on Wednesday that Israel is a “matter of fact”, though the group continues to refuse to accept the country’s legitimacy for now.
Olmert dismissed the apparently softer Hamas rhetoric.
Asked about Meshaal’s remarks as he toured Beijing’s Forbidden City, Olmert said with a shrug: “Does that mean we weren’t (in existence) until now?”
Any diplomatic gains that Olmert can claim in China might shore up his domestic popularity, which has sunk over corruption scandals, the Lebanon war and deadlocked Palestinian talks.
Israeli television reported on Tuesday that Olmert could face a police probe upon his return over suspicions of cronyism. Olmert said he was “unequivocally” blameless in the matter.