Lu Guozheng, the Chinese vice foreign minister, will travel to Tehran on Friday for a three-day visit, a foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said on Thursday.

He didn't say which Iranian officials Lu would meet.

"The two sides will exchange views on the Iranian nuclear issue," Liu said at a regular news briefing.

He said the discussions would focus on "how to resolve this issue in the current context, how to take measures to avoid further escalating this issue, and how to resolve this issue properly through dialogue and negotiation."
 
"We hope the relevant parties could exercise patience and restraint, and now there's still room for a solution of this issue within the IAEA (International Atomic Energy
Agency)," Lu added.

China appeal
 
Earlier this week, China had urged Iran to halt its uranium enrichment activities - a process that can produce either nuclear reactor fuel or material for a warhead.

Iran is suspected of secretly
developing nuclear weapons

Washington and other Western governments suspect Iran's nuclear programme is a cover for producing weapons.

Tehran says its research is peaceful and aimed at developing its nucleear energy capacity.

The IAEA is scheduled to meet on 6 March to discuss the standoff, and could start a process leading to a review by the UN Security Council, which can impose sanctions on Iran.

"The days before the 6 March meeting of the IAEA are crucial," China's official Xinhua News Agency quoted Li Zhaoxing, the country's foreign minister, as saying on Wednesday.

Li "appealed to the international community to be calm, restrained and patient and show flexibility in creating necessary conditions for the resumption of nuclear negotiations between Europe and Iran," Xinhua said.

Media have reported that China and Iran are close to setting plans to develop Iran's Yadavaran oil field, a multibillion-dollar deal that would complete a memorandum of understanding signed in 2004.