GATINEAU, Quebec (Reuters) - The world's leading industrial nations called on Tuesday for stronger action against Iran over its nuclear program and the United States said it was confident China would agree on the need for sanctions.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight nations urged the international community to take "appropriate and strong steps" to show its resolve over the nuclear program, which Tehran insists is purely peaceful.
Western members of the U.N. Security Council are pushing for a fourth round of sanctions against Iran, which many nations suspect is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
China -- which, as a permanent council member, can veto the move -- has traditionally been cool to the idea of punishing Iran further. Diplomats say Beijing is slowly losing patience but still favors a diplomatic solution.
"I believe we are making progress ... We see a growing awareness on the part of many countries, including China, as to the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the end of the meeting in Gatineau, Quebec, just outside Ottawa.
Noting that sanctions were a part of diplomacy, she said Iran had repeatedly shown an unwillingness to fulfill its international obligations over the last 15 months.
"That's the basis on which I express my optimism that we're going to have a consensus reached in the Security Council," Clinton told a news conference.
Turkey, a nonpermanent member of the Security Council, said on Monday it did not favor sanctions. Brazil, which also has a revolving seat on the council, wants a diplomatic solution.
U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking in Washington. said he wanted new U.N. sanctions in place within weeks.
In Beijing on Tuesday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said his government opposed Iran acquiring nuclear weapons but stopped short of backing new sanctions.
"At present, we hope that all sides will make substantive efforts and demonstrate flexibility over the Iran nuclear issue," he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the idea that the G8 had to convince China to agree to sanctions, saying Beijing would make up its mind independently.
In their final communique, the G8 ministers said they wanted Iran to comply with demands from the Security Council and co-operate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"Ministers agreed to remain open to dialogue and also reaffirmed the need to take appropriate and strong steps to demonstrate international resolve to uphold the international nuclear nonproliferation regime," the communique said.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that while the offer of dialogue remained on the table "the parallel track ... is one of pressure".
The ministers also discussed North Korea, which is also under pressure over its atomic program.
They further said that recovery in Afghanistan was "advancing steadily" despite serious problems and called on President Hamid Karzai to fulfill promises to clamp down on rampant corruption.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said it was important to see visible results so that decisions reached at a London conference on Afghanistan in January were not "swept away in the sand".
Additional reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Rob Wilson