BEIJING - Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told officials in China that Israel is keeping "all options in the table" for Iran.

China, which has close energy and trade ties with Iran, has urged a negotiated solution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions and long opposed unilateral sanctions on Iran.

Iran insists its nuclear energy program is purely non-military and has been adamant it will not abandon it under external pressure.

"I think it's our right to protect ourselves, to defend ourselves," Liberman said. "As I mentioned, we keep all options on the table."

"For us, it's crucial to explain our position to our Chinese partners," the foreign minister told reporters on a visit to Beijing, adding that Israel would "continue the dialogue" with China.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao warned Iran in January against any effort to acquire nuclear weapons but apart from that, China has shied away from speaking out strongly against Iran.

That position on Iran underscores the tricky path China is trying to steer between pressure from the United States and its allies and, on the other hand, expectations from Iran, which looks to China as a sympathetic power and a big oil customer.

But an increasingly tough-talking Israel is threatening to take military action, with or without US support, if Iran is deemed to be continuing to defy pressure to curb its nuclear projects.

Speculation is growing that Israel could launch some form of strike against Iranian nuclear installations, which Israel sees as a threat to its existence.

"We prefer that the international community will resolve the Iranian issue through talks, P5+1, through some negotiations, sanctions etcetera," Liberman said.

The P5+1 group, made up of the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, accepted an offer last week from Iran for new talks on its nuclear energy program.

Liberman said Israel was hopeful of "positive progress" at the talks.

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But despite Western sanctions inflicting increasing damage on Iran's oil-based economy, Israel had not seen "readiness from the Iranian side to give up their nuclear ambitions or to stop their enrichment", he said.

China has also resisted Western efforts to exert pressure on Iran by imposing sanctions on its oil exports, much of which flows to China.

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