Plans to enrich uranium in Russia for use in Iran could help break a global stalemate over Tehran's nuclear aims, China's government has said.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, called the proposals "useful" after talks in Beijing aimed at heading off US and EU calls for UN action.

China, which could veto any sanctions bid in the UN, has urged greater efforts for a diplomatic solution.

Mr Larijani said China and Iran held "similar views" on the nuclear issue.

"We agreed members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty have [the] right to peaceful nuclear energy," he told reporters.

Iran has consistently denied US-led accusations that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, insisting its nuclear programme is for producing electricity.

The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is meeting in Vienna on 2 February.

It is thought to be split over whether to refer Iran to the Security Council, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the IAEA's latest report on Iran might not be ready until March.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan said the threat of "arbitrary sanctions" complicates negotiations with Iran.

The Russian suggestion "would be a good attempt at breaking the stalemate", he told reporters.

"We oppose impulsively using sanctions or threats of sanctions to solve problems.

"We hope the concerned parties can take practical measures to ease tensions."

Details sketchy

The Russian plans would limit Iran's ability to covertly produce fissile material for possible use in a nuclear weapon by carrying out uranium enrichment in Russia.

Few details have been released about the Russian proposals.

Iran is thought to be keen that its own scientists are involved in enrichment.

Russia, meanwhile, has previously said any spent nuclear fuel must be returned to Russia for reprocessing.

Early next week, ahead of the Vienna talks, foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany will meet in London to discuss their strategy.

US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, also visiting China this week, said he had China that allowing the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, the centre of global oil supplies, would be extremely dangerous, the Associated Press reports.

Iran is a major supplier of oil to China's fuel-hungry economy.