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China supports cooperation between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency to solve the country's nuclear issue, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Friday.
He was responding to the Teheran plan to increase the pace of uranium enrichment.
"China always sees dialogue and cooperation as the only correct way to resolve the Iran nuclear issue, and China encourages Iran to further its cooperation with the IAEA," spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a routine press conference.
Hong said China has taken note of reports on Teheran's new plan, adding that Iran, a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Iran informed the IAEA that it would install more advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility at a time when Teheran has been engaged in discussions about resuming talks with the United Kingdom, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany over its nuclear project.
Centrifuges are machines that spin at supersonic speed to increase the ratio of uranium's fissile isotopes.
Iran asserts a right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes and has repeatedly refused to halt the work, a stance which is rejected by Western countries and Israel. Teheran's stance was underlined again by its new centrifuge plans.
Iran said it would use the new model at a unit in Natanz, where it is now refining uranium to a fissile concentration of up to 5 percent, according to the IAEA's communication.
The IAEA "received a letter from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran dated Jan 23 informing the agency that 'centrifuge machines type IR2m will be used in Unit A-22' at the Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz," it said.
The IAEA said it had asked Iran, in a letter earlier this week, to provide technical and other information about the plans. A unit can house more than 3,000 centrifuges.
About 10,400 IR-1 centrifuges were installed at Natanz as of late last year, an IAEA report said in November, but diplomats in the Austrian capital said they expected a jump in that figure in the next update from the UN agency due around Feb 22.
Iran's plan has triggered great concerns from Israel, which has hinted at possible military action if sanctions and diplomacy fail to resolve the nuclear standoff.
Signaling impatience, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said, "While the world continues to talk about setting a time and place for the next meeting with Iran, Tehran continues to race toward building a nuclear bomb."
The US has also expressed dissatisfaction with Iran's plan. White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Thursday it would violate the United Nations resolution. Yao Kuangyi, former Chinese ambassador to Turkey, also an expert on Middle East studies, said that Iran's plan offers the US a new excuse to apply further sanctions, which Washington will continue in the future.
There will be sanctions and hopes for resumption of nuclear talks in turn, he added.
The IAEA, whose mission it is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the world, regularly inspects Natanz and other declared Iranian nuclear sites.
Nuclear expert Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank said that employing more efficient centrifuges at Natanz could be "a most unfortunate game changer," depending on how many there were. "Using the IR-2m in large numbers would enable Iran to enrich uranium much faster," Fitzpatrick said.
Iran says it refines uranium to power a planned network of nuclear energy plants.
(China Daily 02/02/2013 page7)