An Iranian envoy on Wednesday said he had received Chinese support in Tehran's diplomatic campaign to block Washington from having the dispute over Iran's nuclear program referred to the U.N. Security Council (search).

Seyed Hossein Mussavian, Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (search), visited Beijing on the eve of an IAEA board meeting that is to review an investigation of suspect Iranian activities. The United States contends that Iran (search) is trying to develop nuclear weapons — an accusation that Tehran denies.

According to Mussavian, Chinese Foreign Ministry officials told him that Beijing wants to see Iran's nuclear program handled by the Vienna-based IAEA.

"They are against referral of the Iranian issue to the Security Council," he told reporters. Iran could face sanctions if the investigation is turned over to the council.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the meetings with Mussavian. But Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing has said previously that Security Council involvement could hinder efforts to resolve the dispute.

China is an IAEA member and holds one of five permanent Security Council seats, with power to veto U.N. actions, making it a potential key ally in any decisions about the Iranian nuclear dispute.

Iran announced Monday that it had met a demand by the IAEA to freeze its uranium enrichment program.

The step fell short of meeting U.S. and European demands to scrap the program permanently, but appeared likely to rob the United States of a possible reason to argue that Iran should be referred to the U.N. Security Council.

Mussavian said the freeze is temporary and meant as a "confidence-building measure." He said Iran was prepared for "full cooperation" with inspections under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but insisted on being allowed to carry on peaceful nuclear research.

Mussavian denied U.S. accusations that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated that claim on Tuesday, pointing to Tehran's development of long-range missiles that he said would be of little use without atomic warheads.

"Everyone knows that not only does Iran not possess any nuclear bombs, Iranian activities have never had diversion" of nuclear material for weapons, Mussavian said.

The Iranian envoy also criticized the United States for targeting Iran's nuclear program while not challenging Israel, which some experts say could have several hundred nuclear warheads.

"They are supporting the mass-destruction weapons of Israel, and they have no criticism of Israelis, (who) possess hundreds of nuclear weapons and they ... have no cooperation with IAEA," he said.