Reuters: China said on Monday it could not attend an international meeting on Iran due to a scheduling conflict and not because of any political rifts, but repeated its call for a negotiated solution to the nuclear standoff. BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Monday it could not attend an international meeting on Iran due to a scheduling conflict and not because of any political rifts, but repeated its call for a negotiated solution to the nuclear standoff.
Western officials have said China was to have joined Britain, France, Germany, the United States and Russia at a meeting on Monday to assess a U.N. nuclear watchdog report on Iran’s nuclear programme and to discuss tougher sanctions.
Western powers say Iran’s programme is aimed at the ability to make nuclear weapons, but Tehran insists it is entirely peaceful.
China’s absence from Monday’s meeting dealt a blow to efforts to raise pressure on Iran. But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters that Beijing had flagged long ago that it would find it difficult to attend.
“It wasn’t a political issue, but a technical problem,” Liu said, calling reports linking the decision to resistance to sanctions “mistaken”.
The Chinese official who would have attended the Iran meeting — Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei — instead had to go to a summit of Asian leaders in Singapore, which had been scheduled before the Iran nuclear meeting was even proposed, Liu said.
Speaking at a news conference ahead of a China-EU summit next week, Liu nonetheless said China’s unwillingness to support fresh sanctions remained unchanged, and he repeated his country’s call for fresh negotiations.
“At this moment, Iran should take seriously and positively respond to these international concerns and demonstrate flexibility,” he said.
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China has the power to veto any new U.N. sanctions.
Iran was likely to be among the issues discussed by Chinese and European leaders during their summit in Beijing, Liu said.
A senior Chinese diplomat at the briefing said the leaders would also discuss trade frictions and a proposed treaty to guide relations between the two sides.
He said recent EU moves to press complaints about Chinese trade practices could backfire by hurting bilateral trade.
China’s trade surplus with the EU member states hit 86 billion euros in the first seven months of 2007, up 25 percent from the same period in 2006, according to EU statistics.
Brussels has often said China does too little to fight counterfeiting of patented goods and other kinds of commercial piracy, and steelmakers recently joined a line of European manufacturers alleging damage from Chinese dumping.
“Relying on trade protection measures to deal with the trade deficit would hurt both sides’ interests,” said the official, who spoke on condition his name was not reported.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley, editing by Nick Macfie and Roger Crabb)