Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit Beijing next month, close ally China said on Wednesday, as a crisis over Tehran's nuclear programme escalates.
Ahmadinejad will be in the Chinese capital for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Central Asian grouping headed by Beijing and Moscow and intended as a counterweight to US influence in the region.
"China extended an invitation to President Ahmadinejad," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei, adding Iran would "participate as an observer" at the SCO summit.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will also attend the June 6-7 gathering, to be chaired by China's President Hu Jintao.
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Tehran insists that its nuclear programme is for peaceful use, but it faces a raft of sanctions from the United Nations, the United States and the European Union over suspicions that it is trying to develop atomic weapons.
China has criticised the measures. On Wednesday, the foreign ministry defended China's business dealings with the oil-rich country, a day after the US Senate approved new sanctions against countries that trade with Tehran.
"Chinese companies have normal and transparent business relations with Iran. These relations do not contravene the relevant US resolutions, neither do they harm the international community," said Hong.
Ahmadinejad last visited China in 2010, when he attended the World Expo in Shanghai.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation groups China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and focuses on regional issues including anti-terrorism.