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    Iran wins key backing from China in nuclear stand-off

    Iran has been given crucial backing from China in its stand-off with the UN's nuclear watchdog, with Beijing saying it opposed US efforts to have the Islamic republic referred to the United Nations Security Council.

    "There is no reason to send the issue to the Security Council," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said in a press conference with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharazi.

    "It would only make the issue more complicated and difficult to work out," Mr Li said, contradicting Washington by saying "the Iranian Government is having a very positive attitude in its cooperation" with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

    Mr Li refused to speculate on whether China would use its veto in the Security Council in the event of Iran's case being sent there.

    He did say he had told US Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw "that China supports a solution in framework of the IAEA".

    The United States accuses Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of its civilian atomic energy program and wants the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to take Iran before the UN Security Council when the IAEA meets in Vienna on November 25.

    Tehran denies that charge, insisting it only wants to generate electricity.

    Russia, another permanent and veto-wielding Security Council member, has also voiced its strong opposition to Iran's case being referred there by the IAEA. The country is helping Iran build its first nuclear power plant in a deal worth some $US800 million.

    Mr Li's comments add yet another layer of diplomatic difficulty for the European Union, which is trying avert the matter being sent to the Security Council by getting Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

    The sensitive part of the fuel cycle makes fuel for civilian reactors but which can also be used to manufacture the material for the explosive core of atomic weapons.

    Tehran has until now resisted Europe's demand for an indefinite suspension, arguing that it would infringe its right to maintain a civilian nuclear power program.

    Europe's three powers are offering Iran nuclear technology, including access to nuclear fuel, increased trade and help with Tehran's regional security concerns if the Islamic Republic halts enrichment.

    Official sources here said talks with Britain, France and Germany were set to continue in Paris on Saturday, amid reports of a deadlock between the EU's so-called "big three" and Iranian officials.

    The negotiations, which began Friday, were said to have stalled over the duration of a suspension as well as the timing or scope of incentives that the EU could offer Iran.

    "Negotiations are going on between the representatives of Iran and the three European countries in Paris. They are complicated and very difficult. Both sides are intending to continue the negotiations and we have to wait and see what the outcome will be," Iran's foreign minister said.

    "I think it would be to the benefit of both sides to reach a consensus," Mr Kharazi added.

    "Iran is determined to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. This is Iran's legitimate right and nobody can deprive us of this right."

    Mr Kharazi also gave Iran's first formal reaction to George W. Bush's re-election, urging the US president to undergo a "change of behaviour" in his second term.

    Although he said the election was "an internal matter for the United States and the American people," he added that "what is important to us is a change of behaviour. In that respect, we hope for positive developments in the second part of Mr Bush's presidency."

    In 2002, Bush famously lumped Iran into an "axis of evil" along with Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Stalinist North Korea.

    - AFP

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