China supports Iran's right to develope nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but urges to allay international suspicions about its atomic program, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
The message - delivered this week by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on a trip to Tehran - shows how split the U.N. Security Council remains over Iran's uranium enrichment program. While the United States and European countries want China to take a harder line, Tehran is counting on support from China and Russia to block new U.N. sanctions.
"Foreign Minister Yang said that China believes Iran has the right to peacefully use nuclear energy," ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said at a regular press briefing.
Liu said Iranian officials also told Yang that they do not intend to develop nuclear weapons.
Yang also urged Tehran to "strengthen its cooperation" with the International Atomic Energy Agency and make progress at talks later this month with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the spokesman said.
"China also hopes all parties show flexibility and make their due efforts to the peaceful resolution of the issue," Liu said.
Yang met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and the country's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, during his visit earlier this week.
Ahmadinejad has praised "China's support" for Iran's nuclear rights, according to Iran's IRNA news agency.
China agreed to earlier sanctions against Iran but has argued against further tough economic measures.
Beijing has been working with other countries to find a way to get Iran to abandon uranium enrichment - a process that can produce either reactor fuel or a nuclear warhead.
The U.S. and some of its allies claim Iran plans to obtain a nuclear weapon. Iran denies it is seeking nuclear arms and insists its program aims only to produce electricity.
Yang also visited neighboring Afghanistan on Wednesday and proposed strengthening cooperation in "nontraditional security areas," Liu said.
He did not give details. However, China has been concerned about drug trafficking out of Afghanistan and has said that Chinese Islamic militants were being trained in the country before U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in late 2001.