"The Iranian nuclear issue should be appropriately resolved through diplomatic negotiations," Kong Quan, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said on Tuesday.

   

"We still hope that this kind of resolution will help promote diplomatic resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue within the framework of the IAEA."

 

China voted for an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution on Iran because it believed that this would encourage further talks.

        

The IAEA decision, made on 4 February, calls for Mohamed ElBaradei, its chief, to report to it by 6 March on Iran's response to demands that it suspend nuclear enrichment activities and improve co-operation with the UN nuclear watchdog.

   

ElBaradei may send his report to
the council in early March

ElBaradai may send his report to the Security Council after the IAEA meeting in early March.

 

But Kong said the resolution did not oblige the IAEA to refer Iran to the council, and he urged all sides to intensify diplomatic efforts and called for Iran to abide by the resolution.

 

"There is still room to resolve the issue through diplomatic negotiations," he said.

   

Before the IAEA vote, China had repeatedly deflected calls from Western countries to refer Iran to the UN Security Council, instead urging Iran to settle the standoff through talks with Britain, France and Germany, known as the EU-3.

   

On Monday, Wang Guangya, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, also called for negotiated settlement between Iran and the European countries.

   

"China prefers to have the EU-3 continue the negotiations with Iranians to find a long-term solution on this issue," he said.

   

Use of veto

 

"China prefers to have the EU-3 continue the negotiations with Iranians to find a long-term solution on this issue"

Wang Guangya, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations

China is one of five members of the UN Security Council, and so can veto proposals for UN action against Iran. The other members are the United States, Britain, France and Russia.

   

Iran said in January it would resume nuclear enrichment, but said the material was for peaceful purposes.

 

But the United States and European Union have said Iran's nuclear programme appears pitched towards eventually making weapons, and they have proposed UN sanctions to deter Iran's nuclear activities.

   

Iran responded to the IAEA resolution by telling it to remove some monitoring equipment from its nuclear facilities on Monday.