JERUSALEM - Israel voiced optimism on Monday that China would not veto any new U.N. Security Council sanctions to curb Iran's nuclear programme, saying Beijing had listened attentively to a visiting Israeli delegation.
The Chinese have given scant comment on their talks last week with the Israeli lobbying mission led by Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon and central bank governor Stanley Fischer.
Beijing has publicly stuck to its long-standing position that diplomacy and dialogue are the best approach to Iran, which has defied three rounds of Security Council sanctions over its uranium enrichment, insisting the project was for energy needs.
There was openness, a willingness to listen, a senior Israeli official told Reuters in the first public comment on the talks in Beijing, where the Israelis argued a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a threat to Middle East security and oil prices.
If I had to give my assessment, it's hard to believe that they (China) will cast a veto, said the official, who asked not to be named given the sensitivity of the negotiations.
We should be seeing the results in the coming weeks.
Of the five Security Council veto-wielders, China is most resistant to employing sanctions against Tehran, with which it has extensive energy, trade and diplomatic ties. Russia, another naysayer in the past, has been signalling some flexibility.
A draft fourth Security Council resolution is expected as soon as this week. Some Western diplomats have predicted it would contain a symbolic tightening of sanctions against Iranian government assets like the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
That would fall far short of the sanctions Israel wants imposed on Iran's lifeblood oil exports and refined petroleum imports. Those hopes were dented when Washington said last week it opposed sanctions that could hurt the Iranian populace.
Our stance is of course the right stance, that in the end of the day we need crippling sanctions that will confront the Iranian regime with the choice of either having the bomb, or surviving, the Israeli official said.
But it's currently clear that for the United States what is more important is getting as many countries on board as possible.
Israel, which is assumed to have the region's only atomic arsenal, sees a mortal threat in the prospect of its arch-foe getting the bomb and has hinted at preemptive attacks to destroy Iranian installations should it deem diplomacy a dead end.
The Israeli official said that the war option, and the destabilising effect it would have on oil, were raised in general terms at the talks hosted by Chinese state counsellor Dai Bingguo, a senior figure in Beijing's foreign policy apparatus.
As far as we are concerned, the Iranian military nuclear project has to be stopped, one way or another. And we made that clear there as well, the official said.
Israel bombed Iraq's atomic reactor in 1981 and launched a similar sortie in Syria in 2007. But many analysts believe Israel's air force is too small to take on Iran's numerous, distant and well-defended facilities alone.
The Israeli official said the delegation to Beijing placed more emphasis on what it described as the inherent regional instability that would follow if Iran acquired nuclear arms.
Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey would enter an arms race, Islamist guerrillas would be emboldened and oil prices would spiral, the Israelis argued.
The delegation presented China with Israeli intelligence data on Iran, the official said, and the impression was that some of the information was revelatory for them.
Ying Gang, a Middle East expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing's links to Iran would be outweighed by its concern for broader foreign relations, leading it not to veto the fourth round of Security Council sanctions.
The Chinese would not ultimately stand shoulder to shoulder with a country which sees U.N. resolutions as wastepaper, the China Daily newspaper quoted Ying as saying.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Ralph Boulton)