China said Wednesday it is still studying the U.N.'s critical assessment of Iran's nuclear program, likely indicating it will withhold public comment until other world powers signal their intentions.
The U.N. atomic agency said for the first time Tuesday that Iran is suspected of conducting secret experiments whose sole purpose is the development of nuclear arms. Iran adamantly insists it is pursuing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei called on Iran to be "serious and flexible" and to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He said the agency, in turn, should be "objective" and committed to clarifying issues.
"At present we believe that all parties should do more to facilitate dialogue and cooperation," Hong said at a regular news briefing.
The report is the IAEA's most unequivocal yet in suggesting Iran is using the cover of a peaceful nuclear program to produce atomic weaponry.
Russia and China are powerful friends of Iran and are veto-holding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
They have gone along with four previous rounds of sanctions aimed at persuading Tehran to cooperate with U.N. nuclear inspectors, but both have opposed further measures.
Chinese experts on the Middle East said Beijing would likely follow past practice in not initiating any proposals at the U.N. in hopes of preventing damage to its thriving commercial relationship with Iran. China is a major customer for Iranian oil and gas and Chinese companies are involved in major projects there, including road building and electricity production.
"What is most likely to happen is that China will first look at other countries including the Arab states, the U.S. and the European countries before taking any action," said Wang Lian of Peking University's School of International Studies.
Given the gravity of the report's findings, China and Russia will face even greater pressure to follow the international community, said Yin Gang, an Iran expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"The U.S. and Europe will be pushing hard for their proposed plans to be included in the U.N. Security Council's sanction package," Yin said.