China's foreign ministry said Thursday that sanctions could not "fundamentally solve" the issue of Iran's nuclear programme.
"Sanctions cannot fundamentally solve the Iran issue," said ministry spokesman Hong Lei, after the UN atomic watchdog said it had broadly "credible" intelligence suggesting the country had done work towards building nuclear warheads.
Iran vowed Wednesday it "will not budge an iota" from its nuclear path despite a new UN report hardening suspicions it is seeking atomic weapons, as an Iranian general warned Israel of "destruction" if it launched an attack.
He reiterated that, contrary to the IAEA report, Iran's nuclear programme was exclusively peaceful in nature, saying "we don't need the atomic bomb."
The words of defiance fell while the United States and its allies said they were looking at imposing more sanctions on Iran, and Tehran's chief ally, China, urged the Islamic republic to cooperate with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency.
But Russia ruled out backing new sanctions against Iran and held urgent consultations with its Soviet-era ally following the publication of the damning report from the IAEA.
After a week of sabre-rattling among Israeli officials and media, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the world must end Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The UN nuclear watchdog's report on Tuesday said "credible" evidence existed of Iran working towards making nuclear warheads to fit inside Shahab-3 medium-range missiles.
Iranian officials immediately characterised the report as "baseless" and hewing to intelligence provided by Iran's arch-foe the United States.
His deputy armed forces chief, Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, warned however that any sign of Israel carrying out threats to attack Iran's nuclear sites "will see its destruction."
Jazayeri said in an interview with Iran's Arabic-language channel Al-Alam that the Israeli nuclear site of Dimona was "the most accessible" target.
But he also stated that "our response would not be limited to the Middle East."
Netanyahu said the world must end Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
"The significance of the report is that the international community must bring about the cessation of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons which endanger the peace of the world and of the Middle East," the Israeli premier said in a statement.
Israeli President Shimon Peres had said at the weekend that the probability of an attack on Iran was becoming "more and more likely."
Amid the hard language in the IAEA report and the threats of Israeli military action, the United States and its allies were talking up the possibility of additional sanctions on Iran.
A senior US official speaking on condition of anonymity said: "We don't take anything off the table when we look at sanctions. We believe there is a broad spectrum of action we could take."
But Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov made clear that Moscow would resist the tougher sanctions now under discussion in Washington and Europe.
"Any additional sanctions against Iran will be interpreted by the international community as a means of changing the regime in Tehran," Gatilov told Interfax.
"This approach is unacceptable to us, and Russia does not intend to review this proposal," he said without specifying whether Moscow would actually use its UN Security Council veto.
France's foreign ministry issued a statement saying "we are prepared to adopt... unprecedented sanctions" should Iran refuse to cooperate with the IAEA.
A spokeswoman for the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the IAEA's report "seriously aggravates existing concerns" and the 27-nation bloc was working on "an adequate reaction."
Ashton represents the six world powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- in stalled negotiations with Iran aimed at convincing Tehran to freeze its uranium enrichment activities.
China and Russia have been reluctant to impose further sanctions on Iran, but Beijing, which also wields a Security Council veto, urged Tehran to show "flexibility and sincerity" in the wake of the IAEA report.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing was still studying the document but called on Iran to "engage in serious cooperation" with the nuclear agency.
The report itself stated that the IAEA had "serious concerns" Iran "has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device."
Although it stopped short of making an outright accusation of weapons programmes, it detailed activities it said showed computer modelling of a nuclear warhead, testing explosives in a large chamber at the Parchin military base near Tehran and studying how to arm a Shahab-3 missile with an atomic warhead.
Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said the allegations were "baseless" and insisted his country "will continue its peaceful nuclear activities."
Analysts said that while the report was important for showing Iranian activity that could relate to nuclear weapons production, there was no "smoking gun" proving Tehran was on the verge of making an atomic bomb.
"This isn't new blockbuster information," Peter Crail from the Arms Control Association in Washington told AFP.
The Institute for Science and International Security said it was notable the report lacked "any assessment by the IAEA of Iran's capability to make a nuclear explosive device based on what is learned through these activities."
Amir Mohebian, an Iranian analyst at a moderateconservative think-tank in Tehran, said the report seemed designed to increase pressure on Iran and set the scene for possible air strikes.