China refuses any new sanctions on Tehran Photo: AFP
James Steinberg, a senior US diplomat, arrived in Beijing on the highest level visit since a series of bilateral rows, to press China towards placing tougher sanctions on Iran.
Chinese officials though assert that diplomacy should be further utilized in persuading Tehran to bring its nuclear program into international compliance.
Moscow signaled on Monday that it would consider new sanctions against Tehran. Speaking in Paris on Monday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he was open to the idea of sanctions against Iran as a last resort.
"Russia is ready, together with our other partners, to consider introducing sanctions" if there is no breakthrough in the negotiations, he told a news conference after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"These sanctions should be calibrated and smart. These sanctions should not target the civilian population," the Russian leader was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
Iran rejected the claim by the IAEA that Tehran was uncooperative in the UN's investigations. Repeatedly claiming that Iran's nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes only.
When questioned about Moscow's statement, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: "We call for a resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic means.
"We believe there is still room for diplomatic efforts and the parties concerned should intensify those efforts."
The US has long sought the backing of China, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, in applying new and tougher sanctions on Tehran. US officials hope that hopes the visit by Mr Steinberg and the National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs, Jeffrey Bader, will help ease Sino-US tensions that have arisen over a Taiwan arms deal, trade matters, internet censorship, and US policy towards Tibet.
These tensions aside, China will not likely support any tougher sanctions for two very evident reasons. First, China is a strong advocate for state sovereignty and the freedom of countries to act internally, free from international interference. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly is the fact that China has very strong trade relations with Iran.
Sino-Iranian trading is very extensive and China relies on Iran as a major supplier of oil. China has also invested heavily in Iran over the past decade and any further sanctions would impede Chinese business in Iran.
Thus, the US may work fervently to gain China's backing on the new purposed sanctions, yet gain no headway in the end.