China on Wednesday called on Iran and the UN atomic watchdog to cooperate over a new uranium enrichment plant, amid mounting international tensions over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
The comments came as US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met Chinese leaders to try to press the case for sanctions on Iran, which Beijing — a key consumer of Iranian oil — has repeatedly opposed.
China hopes “Iran and the IAEA will stress cooperation and earnestly carry out the safeguards and clarify pending issues in the Iranian nuclear programme as soon as possible,” said foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin.
“China has normal energy cooperation with Iran which is transparent and does not violate UN Security Council resolutions,” he added.
“To place one country’s domestic law above international law and press others to obey is not reasonable.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said Iran has begun enriching uranium to up to 20 percent at a new plant in a fortified bunker sunk into a mountain.
Iran, which insists its nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes, has repeatedly said it will not abandon uranium enrichment despite four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions demanding Tehran desist.
It says it is enriching uranium at the new Fordo site near Qom to provide fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor to produce medical isotopes for the treatment of cancer patients.
But analysts say the Islamic republic has more than enough enriched uranium for this purpose already.
The IAEA has 24-hour surveillance cameras in the site and there are regular visits by its inspectors, Iran’s envoy to the Vienna watchdog Ali Asghar Soltanieh was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
But the fear is that if Iran decided to expel IAEA inspectors, as North Korea did, it could enrich uranium to weapons-grade purity in a short space of time using the fortified Fordo facility.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday the confirmation Iran was enriching uranium was “especially troubling”, again calling on Tehran to cease all such work.
Russia, which has relatively close ties with Iran, has also voiced concern over the new plant, while Britain and France are pushing for stronger economic sanctions to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear programme.
But Iran has threatened to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz if oil sanctions are imposed over its nuclear programme, sparking concern in China.