By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) – Stepping up pressure on Iran was not an effective way to persuade the country to halt its nuclear programme, Beijing said on Thursday, even as China joined other major powers to demand a “serious response” from Tehran.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and Germany, told Iran on Wednesday to prepare a “serious response” by October 1 to demands it halt its nuclear program, or risk the consequences.
The ultimatum came after U.S. President Barack Obama made his first speech to the U.N. General Assembly, urging leaders to join him in confronting world issues including Iran’s nuclear plans.
Obama has also said he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed this week that further U.N. sanctions will be considered if Iran does not respond to proposals to end a nuclear standoff.
But China, which has traditionally been ambivalent about bringing international pressure to bear on other nations and imports large amounts of crude oil from Iran, signaled that it would be uneasy with a heavy-handed approach.
“We believe that sanctions and exerting pressure are not the way to solve problems and are not conducive for the current diplomatic efforts on the Iran nuclear issue,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, in comments to the official Xinhua news agency also repeated China’s stance that the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme was best resolved peacefully through dialogue.
Foreign ministers from the six nations who signed off on the letter to Tehran had met at the United Nations to continue discussions about Iran’s disputed nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at developing atomic weapons.
“We expect a serious response from Iran and will decide, in the context of our dual track approach, as a result of the meeting, on our next steps,” British Foreign Minister David Miliband said, reading a statement agreed by Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
In Vienna, the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been urging Iran to explain Western intelligence reports suggesting Tehran has conducted research into building a nuclear warhead.
Iran says the intelligence is fabricated. It insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity and has rejected Security Council demands that it suspend all sensitive nuclear activities.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in his own U.N. address on Wednesday, did not directly mention the nuclear issue.