* China's Xi says "dialogue momentum" must be maintained
* Iran's Rouhani urges China to moderate West's demands
* Diplomats resume nuclear talks in Geneva on Wednesday
(Adds Rouhani comments)
BEIJING/DUBAI, Nov 20 China's president told his
Iranian counterpart to "seize the opportunity" to improve
relations with world powers, as diplomats head to Geneva hoping
to clinch a preliminary deal to ease a nuclear dispute between
Tehran and the West.
Wednesday's negotiations will be the third round between
Iran and the six powers in just a month. Two weeks ago, they
came close to sealing an initial accord to curb Iran's nuclear
activity in exchange for limited relief from sanctions.
China, Iran's top oil customer and a permanent member of the
U.N. Security Council, has opposed unilateral sanctions on
Tehran such as those imposed by Washington and the European
Union, and has called repeatedly for talks to resolve the
Policymakers on all sides have said an interim accord could
be within reach during talks this week.
President Xi Jinping praised Iranian President Hassan
Rouhani for his government's "proactive conduct" on nuclear
talks and its efforts to improve ties with the international
community, the official Xinhua news agency said late on Tuesday.
"China hopes Iran seizes the opportunity, maintains the
dialogue momentum and seeks the greatest common factor to strive
for the best results," Xinhua cited Xi as saying in a phone call
China will continue to exert a proactive influence in the
talks to create conditions for a long-term resolution, Xi said.
The goal is an interim deal that would allow time to
negotiate a comprehensive, permanent agreement that provides
assurances to the so-called P5+1 powers - the United States,
Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - that Iran's nuclear
programme will not eventually produce bombs.
Iran denies it wants to develop a nuclear weapons capability
and insists its programme is limited to the peaceful generation
of electricity and medical research - a stance Rouhani
reiterated during the call with Xi.
"The last talks made considerable progress and if problems
had not been created, we could have reached a win-win
agreement," Rouhani was quoted as saying by the Iranian state
news agency IRNA.
The last round of talks stumbled over Iran's insistence that
its "right" to enrich uranium be recognised and disagreement
over its work on a heavy-water reactor near Arak, which could
yield plutonium for nuclear bombs once it becomes operational.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has since
indicated a way around the first sticking point, saying Tehran
has the right to refine uranium, but will not insist that others
explicitly recognise that right.
Rouhani blamed internal differences between Western members
of the P5+1 for the failure to strike a deal at the talks
earlier this month, and said China should use its political
weight to rein in those asking Iran for too many concessions.
"We expect China, as a big country with authority in the
field of international relations, to exercise its duty with
respect to the excessive demands of some countries," he said.
Western governments suspect Iran has enriched uranium with
the covert aim of developing the means to fuel nuclear weapons,
a charge Tehran denies. Refined uranium can also fuel nuclear
power plants - Iran's stated goal.
A shift towards meaningful diplomacy between Iran and the
world powers began after the June election of Rouhani on a
platform to relieve the country's international isolation and to
get sanctions strangling its oil-dependent economy lifted.
(Reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing and Isabel Coles in
Dubai; Editing by Michael Perry and Gareth Jones)