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A high-ranking Israeli delegation will leave at the end of the month for Beijing, for political, security and economic discussions with senior Chinese officials. The central issue of the talks will be the Iranian nuclear program, and the Israeli request for sanctions on Tehran.

The delegation, headed by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, was decided upon by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as discussions intensify between the six superpowers on the possibility of upgrading sanctions on Iran. China is considered to be the most stern opponent to the sanctions, followed by Russia. Fisher and Ya'alon will be joined by representatives of the Foreign Ministry, and defense officials. The delegation will meet senior officials in the Chinese foreign ministry and treasury.

The delegates will stress to their Chinese hosts that failing to stop the Iranian nuclear program and its acquisition of nuclear arms will destabilize the Middle East and trigger a nuclear arms race throughout the region. The delegation will also discuss increasing financial cooperation between Israel and China.

Netanyahu's government has largely neglected China in its diplomatic efforts to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have not visited China and held no significant talks with Chinese officials on the Iranian issue, concentrating instead on the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and Germany.

China has vast economic interests in Iran, with much of the Chinese energy market dependent on imported Iranian oil, while Israel repeatedly requests sanctions on Iranian oil and on selling refined oil to Iran.

Meanwhile, the American administration is trying to persuade some of the other Gulf states to supply China with oil at a lower price than that required by Iran. One offer was already made by Saudi Arabia, but was not as yet accepted by the Chinese.

Earlier in the weekend the foreign ministry issued a statement responding to the last International Atomic Energy Agency report, which said there were suspicions Iran was trying to produce nuclear weapons. "Iran is continuing to systematically violate the decisions of the UN Security Council and the IAEA," the statement read. "The international community and its institutions must begin imposing effective sanctions on Iran as early as possible, to bring home to it the heavy price it would pay for continuing to develop its nuclear program."