BEIJING – Premier Wen Jiabao said Thursday that China intends to strengthen its cooperation with Iran, an indication Beijing would oppose growing calls in the West for additional sanctions against the Islamic regime for its nuclear program.
Earlier this month, Tehran revealed that it was operating a previously undisclosed uranium enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom, deepening suspicions in Europe and the U.S. that Tehran seeks atomic weapons.
But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was rebuffed in Moscow this week when she sought support for a united warning to Iran of the consequences of refusing to prove that its nuclear program is peaceful.
Washington had hoped that Moscow was warming to the idea of tougher sanctions after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said they were sometimes inevitable. But ever since, the Russians have been backtracking from that remark, saying threats of such measures are unhelpful in negotiations with Iran. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in Beijing on Wednesday that talking about sanctions was "premature."
Wen's remarks Thursday appeared to suggest that Beijing is also unlikely to accept any new U.N. sanctions resolution. China and Russia are both veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council and have long defended Tehran by watering down resolutions.
Wen made his remarks during a meeting with Iran's visiting First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said. Rahimi was in Beijing to attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security grouping that includes China, Russia and four central Asian nations.
China will "maintain high-level exchanges with Iran, enhance mutual understanding and trust, promote bilateral pragmatic cooperation and coordinate closely in international affairs," Wen said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Wen said China was committed to promoting the peaceful settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue and playing a constructive role in the process, Ma said. However, he gave no further details on what role China would play.
China's ties with Iran have "witnessed rapid development, as the two countries' leaders have had frequent exchanges, and cooperation in trade and energy has widened and deepened," Wen told Rahimi, who in turn said Iran values its relations with China and wants to increase cooperation on international issues.
Iran has denied its uranium enrichment is for weapons making and has agreed to have U.N. inspectors visit the newly disclosed facility.
But lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives, who question whether Iran can be trusted, approved legislation Wednesday that allows state and local governments to curtail investments in international corporations doing business in Iran's energy sector. The Obama administration has also said it is hoping to craft an international consensus on new multilateral sanctions if Iran acts in bad faith.