Thursday, July 10, 2008

Iran tests more missiles as U.S. vows to defend allies

China urged restraint in the row over Iran's nuclear plans, but did not echo Western rebukes over the missile firings.

"We express our concern about these developments," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said of the tests.

He welcomed the prospect of fresh talks on the nuclear program being pursued by Iran, the world's fourth largest oil producer and China's third biggest crude supplier.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China have offered Iran incentives to curb its nuclear work. Tehran rejects their demand that it suspend uranium enrichment.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, acting for the six powers, is expected to meet Iranian officials for talks on the package, but no time or place has been announced.

China and Russia, which is building Iran's first, and so far only, nuclear power plant, have been resisting U.S.-led calls for expanding U.N. sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Sanctions have made Western firms increasingly wary about investing. France's Total said on Thursday it would not invest for now in a big gas deal due to the political risk.

Iran has brushed off the impact of Western caution saying it has a big enough cash pile from windfall oil earnings to carry out the project itself or find other interested parties.

"This is our message. We will proceed with development with or without them," Iranian Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari told journalists when asked about the latest comments from Total.

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