BEIJING (AP) -- U.S. envoys are meeting Chinese officials in Beijing for talks on ending a two-month spike in bilateral tensions, but even before talks began, the issue of new sanctions against Iran re-emerged as a snag.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Senior White House Asia adviser Jeffrey Bader are hoping to put relations back on track following frictions over trade, Tibet, and Taiwan.
An hour before their plane landed, however, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang offered a reminder of the tough challenges remaining, reiterating Beijing's insistence that now was not the time for new U.N. Security Council sanctions against Tehran for its nuclear defiance, as proposed by the United States and others.
"We call for resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic means," Qin told reporters in response to questions about Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's comments on Monday that Moscow -- which had been skeptical of sanctions -- was ready to consider new measures.
Beijing -- one of five veto-wielding permanent Security Council members -- signed on to three earlier rounds of sanctions but has showed no indication of budging on new measures, despite U.S. hopes for support.
Israel's prime minister told members of parliament Tuesday that an Israeli delegation sent to Beijing last week to make the case for sanctions found China's intentions unclear.
"I don't think that they are going to vote in favor of sanctions, but it's possible they won't impose a veto," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, according to a meeting participant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the session was closed.
Many see in China's lack of enthusiasm for sanctions a desire to avoid damaging its burgeoning economic relationship with Iran, an important source of energy for the booming Chinese economy.
Yet Beijing also shares relatively few of Washington's concerns in the Middle East beyond energy security, and the recent bilateral tensions may have made the leadership even less inclined to cooperate.
Beijing was incensed by Washington's January announcement of a $6.4 billion weapons package for Taiwan, the self-governing island it considers Chinese territory. Beijing suspended military exchanges and has threatened to retaliate against U.S. aerospace firms involved in the deal.
Beijing protested again when President Barack Obama met at the White House with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing accuses of seeking independence for the Himalayan region.
Other irritants include Google's contention that its e-mail accounts were hacked from China, followed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's criticisms of the censorship of cyberspace by China and others. Beijing lashed out at Google and what it labeled U.S. "information imperialism," while the Foreign Ministry said Clinton's remarks damaged bilateral relations.
The new tensions join recurring friction over human rights and commerce, with U.S. critics accusing China of deliberately undervaluing its currency to boost its massive trade surplus. Meanwhile, Beijing last month charged Washington with abusing trade relief measures after U.S. regulators increased import duties on Chinese-made steel pipes.
"We hope the U.S. side takes seriously the Chinese position and ... works with the Chinese side to push the China-U.S. relationship back to the track of sound and healthy development," Qin said, reiterating Beijing's insistence that the U.S. was solely responsible for damage to relations.
Few details have been given about the U.S. envoy's visit, although the Americans will meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and other leaders. The visit is scheduled to run through Thursday.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Iran would be discussed, along with efforts to coax North Korea back to six-nation talks on ending its nuclear programs.
But he indicated bilateral relations would be the main thrust of the exchanges as the sides attempt to "kind of refocus on the future."
"We've gone through a bit of a bumpy path here, and I think there's an interest both within the United States and China to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible," Crowley said.
The success of the U.S. envoys' would depend on their ability to reassure China that its core interests -- those related to sovereignty and national security -- would being respected, said Zhao Qizheng, head of the foreign affairs committee for the Chinese legislature's advisory body.
"It's like a tennis match. The U.S. served this ball and all the Chinese side has done is return," Zhao said.
AP reporter Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed to this report.