BEIJING (Reuters) - China has urged Iran to cooperate more closely with the global nuclear watchdog and rejoin talks on its nuclear program that has caused a rift with the West.
Assistant Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu said the purpose of his two-day visit to Tehran, which began Sunday, was to "candidly discuss" the Iran nuclear issue with Deputy Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Baqeri.
"China is willing to ... push forward the early resumption of six-nation talks with Iran, and encourage Iran to strengthen cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure the Iran nuclear issue moves forward on the proper course of dialogue," Ma said in a statement on the ministry's website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and intended to meet its energy and medical needs. Western nations suspect it is planning to build nuclear weapons capability.
Major powers signaled in late January that they were willing to reopen talks on curbing Iran's nuclear program but said Tehran must show it is serious about any negotiations.
The group, known as the P5+1, includes Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
That push for diplomacy follows weeks of rising tensions between the West, which has upped sanctions on Iran, and Tehran, which had threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost one-fifth of oil traded worldwide flows.
Ma's call is a familiar refrain for China, which has repeatedly voiced its concerns over new sanctions on Iran, and is one of the largest users of Iranian oil, buying around 20 percent of total exports.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie)