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China-US agreement sends warning to Iran

China said that sanctions were not the answer to the stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme, after Beijing and Washington had agreed to push for new punitive action.

China said today that sanctions were not the answer to the stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme, after US officials said Beijing and Washington had agreed to jointly push for new punitive action. But foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu also said China backs a "dual-track strategy" ? continued dialogue with Tehran while considering the possibility of sanctions if that fails to halt sensitive nuclear work.

She was speaking after talks between Chinese President Hu Jintao and US president Barack Obama in Washington on the issue, after which US officials said the two sides had agreed to push forward with a new UN resolution on Iran. "China always believes that dialogue and negotiation are the best way out for the issue. Pressure and sanctions cannot fundamentally solve it," Ms Jiang told reporters. But she added: "The actions of the Security Council should help turn around the situation and properly solve the issue through dialogue and negotiation."

The United States and its western allies believe Tehran is using uranium enrichment as a cover to build nuclear weapons, a claim the Iranians deny. Both Washington and Beijing are involved in negotiations with Tehran, along with Britain, France, Germany and Russia, and Mr Obama is looking to enact toughened sanctions against Iran within weeks. China and Russia, both veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, have always favoured diplomacy over sanctions on the Iran nuclear issue, but Moscow has recently moved closer to the US position.

After Mr Hu and Mr Obama met in Washington, Jeff Bader, senior director for Asia on the US National Security Council, said: "The Chinese very clearly share our concern about the Iranian nuclear programme. "The two presidents agreed the two delegations should work together on a sanctions resolution in New York," Mr Bader said. Ms Jiang refused to be drawn when asked specifically about the comments from the US official.

But she said China sought a "diplomatic resolution of the issue" and at the same time would "listen to other parties' opinions". In Washington, Chinese foreign ministry official Ma Zhaoxu said Beijing and Washington shared the "same overall goal" on Iran, after months of US efforts to secure Chinese co-operation on new sanctions. Last week at the United Nations in New York, the six world powers discussed a draft resolution sanctioning Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards, believed to be involved in nuclear proliferation activities.

They agreed to meet again soon. * AFP

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