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Israeli minister meets Chinese officials on Iran

A senior Israeli minister Friday met Chinese officials for talks expected to focus on winning Beijing's support for tougher sanctions against Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.

world Updated: Feb 26, 2010 09:50 IST

A senior Israeli minister Friday met Chinese officials for talks expected to focus on winning Beijing's support for tougher sanctions against Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.

The visit by the high-level Israeli delegation comes as Beijing, a close ally of Iran with oil interests in the Islamic republic, has come under increased pressure to agree to punitive measures against Tehran.

China has so far been reluctant to back such a move, and has repeatedly said that there is still time for more talks to resolve the standoff over Iran's atomic programme, which the West says is a covert weapons drive.

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon held talks with Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo as he wrapped up a two-day visit, said Guy Kivetz, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy.

"They're going to discuss key issues -- bilateral, regional, international -- of mutual concern to both countries, among them the Iranian situation," he told AFP, declining to provide further details about the talks.

The Israeli delegation also includes central bank chief Stanley Fischer.

Iran has so far failed to take up a nuclear fuel swap offer from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, under which Russia would enrich its uranium and France would process it.

Tehran says its atomic programme is solely for civilian energy purposes.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week urged the United Nations Security Council to move on new sanctions within 60 days.

The United States is working with Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany to try to halt Iran's uranium enrichment programme.

Beijing now appears to be the sole holdout on sanctions among the five permanent veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, after Russia called Thursday for "responsible behaviour" from Iran, signalling its impatience.

Last week, Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said China's position on the issue remained "a mystery."

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak was in Washington this week for talks which the Pentagon said were focused on Iran.

US and Israeli officials have refused to rule out military action against Iran, but the White House has stressed it is committed to a diplomatic strategy designed to pile pressure on Tehran.