China is urging Iran to stop all uranium enrichment activities while hope remains for a compromise arrangement with Russia that would meet Iran's peaceful nuclear energy needs. But Germany's foreign minister says the West cannot rule out sanctions against Iran if - as the West suspects - Iran is really after nuclear weapons.
China has all along opposed strong action against Iran over its nuclear ambitions, saying Tehran's dispute with the West should be resolved through negotiations.
Russia has offered to enrich uranium for Iran's peacetime use instead of Iran doing it by itself - an arrangement that analysts say would provide for at least some outside monitoring.
On Tuesday, as talks were taking place in Moscow over the Russian offer, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Beijing supported those negotiations.
He called on Iran to back off on its threat to start enriching uranium on its own - at least as long as the talks with the Russians continue.
"Given the current circumstances, China hopes Iran will restore suspension of all activities relating to uranium enrichment, and create the conditions for appropriately resolving the Iran nuclear issue through negotiations," he said.
Even as Liu was talking, however, word came from Moscow that the talks there had broken up, and the Iranian delegation was returning to Tehran. But an Iranian official was later quoted as saying the talks would continue in Tehran next week.
Iran has raised international concern with its nuclear development policy, which the Iranians insist is only for peacetime energy. The United States and many European countries believe they really intend to build nuclear weapons.
Earlier this month, at the urging of Washington and some of the European capitals, the International Atomic Energy Agency decided to refer the dispute to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
Tehran responded by saying it would no longer allow unannounced inspections by U.N. monitors - and would begin enriching uranium on its own.
In Tokyo Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Europe, too, hopes for a diplomatic solution to the dispute. But he said he could not "completely rule out" the possibility of imposing sanctions on Iran.