China and Iran have normal business ties which should not be targeted by any new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday, repeating that in any case sanctions were not the solution.

Iran already faces a wide range of U.N. sanctions, as well as some imposed unilaterally by the United States and the European Union.

New EU sanctions, which the bloc is discussing, would be a significant part of Western efforts to ratchet up pressure on Tehran after the U.N. nuclear watchdog's report this week that laid bare a trove of intelligence suggesting Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

Just like many countries, China and Iran have transparent and normal commercial dealings, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.

These dealings benefit the peoples of both countries. They do not harm the interests of other countries nor the international community and they do not violate Security Council resolutions. Even less do they detract from China's stance on nuclear proliferation, he added.

I wish to reiterate that dialogue and cooperation are the most effective channel for resolving the Iran nuclear issue. Pressure and sanctions do not help to fundamentally resolve the problem.

He did not give a direct answer when asked whether new unilateral U.S. sanctions would harm ties with Beijing, saying only that dialogue and cooperation were the pressing task.

Western governments would prefer further Security Council measures against Tehran. But Russia and China, both permanent Security Council members with veto power, are opposed and say new sanctions would not work.

Tehran says its nuclear programme is for producing electricity and other peaceful purposes.

China, which has kept close ties with Iran, has also backed past U.N. Security Council resolutions criticising Iran's position on nuclear issues and authorising limited sanctions.

Iran is China's third-largest crude oil supplier, shipping 20.3 million tonnes in the first nine months of the year, up by almost a third on the same period last year, according to Chinese data.

China has repeatedly resisted Western proposals for sanctions that could seriously curtail its energy and economic ties with Iran.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Writing by Ben Blanchard)