Tehran: Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili was heading to China to discuss Tehran`s atomic programme, a report said Wednesday, as world pressure grew for fresh sanctions against the Islamic republic.
Iran`s official news agency IRNA reported that Jalili, the chief nuclear negotiator, will on Thursday hold talks on Iran`s "nuclear issue" with high-ranking officials in Beijing, which has steadfastly resisted further sanctions against Tehran.
Jalili`s mission to Beijing comes after a call on Tuesday by the Group of Eight foreign ministers for stepped up pressure against Iran over its controversial nuclear programme, which world powers believe is masking an atomic weapons drive.
US President Barack Obama, who in March 2009 offered to open diplomatic dialogue with Iran, added to the pressure by saying on Tuesday he hoped new sanctions would be imposed against Tehran within "weeks."
Jalili, who led the Iranian team during talks in Geneva last October with world powers, is expected in China to try to ensure the continued support of Beijing, which of the five UN veto-wielding powers has voiced the strongest opposition to further sanctions.
While the United States, Britain, and France are pushing for a fourth round of UN sanctions against Iran, China, which is now Iran`s main economic partner, maintains that a diplomatic solution to the crisis is still possible.
Russia, another long-standing ally of Tehran, meanwhile has indicated it could back new harsh measures against the Islamic republic if required.
The pressure to impose sanctions has grown in recent weeks with US officials touring the region to secure backing for the measure aimed at halting Iran`s galloping nuclear drive.
The Group of Eight foreign ministers, who met this week in the Canadian town of Gatineau, called on Iran to abandon the controversial programme which Tehran insists is aimed purely at generating electricity.
"While G8 ministers agreed to remain open to dialogue with Iran, they also called on the international community to take appropriate steps to put pressure on Iran," Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said Tuesday at the end of the two-day meeting.
Iran`s defiance, lack of transparency in the construction of a uranium enrichment facility near the Shiite holy city of Qom and refusal to engage the international community are of "serious concern" to the G8, Cannon said.
G8 foreign ministers urged "in the strongest possible terms" that Iran cooperate with five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton predicted that if Iran continued to ignore global pleas the UN Security Council would soon reach a consensus on further sanctions.
"The last 15 months have demonstrated clearly the unwillingness of Iran to fulfil its international obligations," Clinton said.
She predicted "the next weeks will be ones of intense negotiation" among Security Council members and many interested countries.
In Washington, US President Obama and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy also upped the pressure on the Islamic republic, which has vehemently denied it is making nuclear weapons.
Obama said he hoped to impose new international nuclear sanctions on Iran within "weeks" but admitted Washington did "not yet" have global agreement to do so.
"And that`s something that we have to work on," Obama said, admitting that Iran was a major oil producer and had a plethora of commercial partners.
"The time has come to take decisions. Iran cannot continue its mad race," agreed Sarkozy at a White House press conference, saying he had worked with British and German leaders "to ensure that Europe as a whole engages in the sanctions regime."
Clinton affirmed late Monday that China would participate in Iranian sanctions talks.