On the eve of the restarting of talks between Iran and world powers on Thursday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu emphasized Wednesday to visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that Iran must be denied the capability to develop nuclear weapons.

“We believe that for the peace of the world, for the peace of the coming years and decades, Iran must be denied the capability – I stress the word – the capability to develop nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said before their two-hour meeting.

China, along with the US, Russia, France, Germany and Britain, is one of the P5+1 countries negotiating with Iran. Israeli sources said that Beijing generally follows Moscow’s lead in these talks.

Despite widespread skepticism in the West that Netanyahu’s demands of Iran are attainable, he reiterated them again to Wang, saying Iran must end all uranium enrichment, dismantle its centrifuges, eliminate the stockpiles of enriched uranium, and dismantle its heavy water reactor in Arak so that it will be unable to produce plutonium.

“I think that this is something that the international community in its entirety must stand firm on,” he said.

Wang did not mention Iran in his brief remarks.

The Chinese foreign minister, who took over the position earlier this year, arrived in Israel late Tuesday evening for his first ever visit to the country. He is likely to hear similar sentiments about Iran when he visits Saudi Arabia at the tail end of his Middle East regional trip, which will also take him to Morocco and Algeria. He is the first Chinese foreign minister, and the highest ranking Chinese official, to visit Israel since 2009.

Wang went to Bethlehem and Ramallah Wednesday morning, where he met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. PA officials said Abbas reiterated his commitment to achieving peace through negotiations.

Abbas also emphasized his commitment to pursuing the peace talks with Israel until the end of the nine-month timetable set by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the official said.

While China has not historically taken much of a role in the conflict, in recent months it has signaled an interest to be more involved. Just prior to Netanyahu’s visit to China in May, the Chinese – during a visit by Abbas – published a four point peace plan that called for a two-state solution, the end of violence, the halting of settlement construction and the immediate renewal of negotiations.

Over the last few years one assumption in Jerusalem regarding the world scene was that Russia and China had reached a certain modus vivendi: China would stay out of the Middle East and follow Russia’s lead on matters there, and Russia would follow China’s lead on issues in the Far East, particularly when regarding North Korea.

But as China’s economic clout is growing, Beijing – according to analysts in Israel – is interested in becoming a player in the Middle East in its own right, partly to create a point of leverage with the United States.

According to this thinking, just as the US has traditionally gotten Beijing’s attention by being involved with Taiwan, so China can get Washington’s attention by moving into an area that for so long has been US-led and dominated.

The structure of Wang’s visit shows, however, that Beijing is very much in the listenand- learn mode. In addition to meeting Netanyahu on Wednesday, and scheduled meetings with President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday, the Chinese Embassy has also organized a symposium where Palestinian and Israeli academics will discuss the Middle East and a potential role China could play.

Israeli officials would not say whether, and in what context, the Bank of China case – and Beijing’s pressure on Israel to block former agent Uzi Shaya from testifying against it in a major terror-financing lawsuit in the US – would come up in the talks.

Wang stressed in his brief remarks with Netanyahu that he has come “to pursue stronger cooperation between our two countries. Our two economies are highly complementary, and the mutually beneficial cooperation between us enjoys a very bright future.”

The Chinese foreign minister expanded on this theme later in the evening at a dinner in his honor hosted by the Chinese Embassy and various organizations dedicated to fostering Sino-Israeli ties.

“If we use the Jewish brain and the Chinese motor, the car that we will build together will take off with great speed,” he said. Wang stressed the ancient roots of both the Jewish and Chinese people, and said he is a fervent supporter in promoting the relationship.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, is coming under both American and European pressure not to announce more building in the settlements following what is expected to be another batch of Palestinian terrorists to be released at the end of the month.

Under the framework reached in July that enabled a re-start of Israeli-Palestinian talks, Israel is to release 104 Palestinian prisoners during the nine-months of negotiations.

The release of the first two groups was accompanied by announcements of new plans for settlement constructions, most – but not all – in Jerusalem or the major settlement blocks.

Netanyahu is being told that an additional announcement of more settlement construction could endanger the continuation of the talks.

The prime minister, speaking Wednesday evening at a Likud convention, said that Israel does not “stop for a minute” building on our land.

“There are attempts to pressure us,” Netanyahu said. “The US conducts the talks in a good spirit, but there are those who try to pressure us. It’s not easy to withstand pressure, but we do. They pound on the table and don’t stop trying to persuade in various international forums. On fateful issues, we don’t compromise and the world understands. My goal is to guarantee the future of the Jewish people in its land.”

Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.

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