India, Russia and China have a near identical approach towards resolving the Iranian nuclear impasse and will advocate a negotiated solution within the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the trilateral meeting of their foreign ministers in New Delhi on February 14, a top Chinese expert said.
"China demands Iran should follow international rules. In the meantime, China believes that this issue should be solved in the framework of the IAEA," Zhao Gancheng, a South Asia expert at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, China's influential think tank, said.
Zhao hinted at a compromise formula the three countries may be advocating at the trilateral meeting for resuming negotiations within the P5+Germany format before the IAEA submits its crucial report on February 21 that could form a basis for harsher sanctions against Tehran.
The meeting between Pranab Mukherjee of India, Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Li Zhaoxing of China will be the first structured interaction among them in a trilateral format.
Besides Iran, they will discuss a host of global issues like the turmoil in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan, the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and the Middle East peace process.
"The bottomline is that China will never advocate the use of force. China is against the use of force," Zhao stressed, indicating that if the US were to go ahead with a military strike, as is speculated in a section of the international press, it will face opposition from these three powerful countries.
However, Zhao, who specialises in China-India relations and has written books like "The Equilibrium of International System and China-India Simultaneous Rise," underlined that Iran needed to be "more transparent" to convince the international community about the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.
"We do realise that the Iranian nuclear programme is not transparent enough. Iran's intention is the problem. They need to convince the world about the peaceful nature of their nuclear programme," he said.
China and Russia have substantial strategic and economic ties with Iran and its energy industry and therefore would not wish to jeopardise their business interests by joining the US' chorus for more stringent sanctions against Iran.
A UN Security Council resolution called for limited sanctions against Tehran last month.
Unlike them, India does not have business interests of the same magnitude with Iran but New Delhi has symbolic stakes in its Iran policy in as far as it does not wish to be seen pro-US by toeing the American line.
The near convergence of approach was reflected in the India-Russia joint statement last month that spoke about finding "an effective solution to the Iranian nuclear issue through political and diplomatic efforts."
During his recent visit to Iran, Pranab Mukherjee opposed the use of force and underlined the centrality of the IAEA in resolving the Iranian standoff.
Keen to assert independence of its foreign policy and aware of its growing energy needs, India has also made it clear that despite a US law that discourages foreign investment in Iran's energy sector and the civil nuclear legislation that asks for cooperation with the US on the Iranian issue, it wants to go ahead with a tri-national pipeline for importing Iranian gas through Pakistan to India.
India has backed Iran's peaceful use of nuclear energy but has voted against Tehran twice in the IAEA and has defended the vote against the Iranian nuclear programme arguing that a nuclear-weapon Iran is not in its national interests.