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Rice, EU Leaders Clash over China Arms Embargo


The U.S. relationship with Europe, strained by the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq two years ago, has improved of lately, amid successful elections in Iraq and some progress in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

However, Ms. Rice's talks in Europe, on her first overseas mission as Secretary of State, apparently yielded no progress on the ongoing dispute between the United States and the EU over arms sales to China.

The European Union imposed the sanction in the wake of China's 1989 military crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square that is believed to have left hundreds of people dead and thousands imprisoned.

EU officials last month announced agreement in principle to lift the embargo within six months, with the intention of replacing it with a code of conduct restricting the kinds of weapons systems that might be sold.

The Bush administration opposes the move and urges the EU to reconsider.

At a Brussels news conference Thursday after talks with senior EU officials, Secretary of State Rice said human rights concerns that spurred the embargo remain, including, she said, the continued detention of 2,000 Tiananmen-era demonstrators.

"We continue to believe that the human rights concerns need to be taken into consideration in any decision that was tied to Tiananmen and now would be reversed, when in fact the elements of Tiananmen have not been resolved, the 2,000 prisoners," she said. "Also we've made clear our concerns about the military balance, the fact there are still American forces in that region, and about the need to be concerned about the transfer of technology that might endanger in some way that very delicate military balance."

Ms. Rice said she believed the Europeans were listening to and understood U.S. concerns about lifting the embargo, and said was led to believe that a final decision had not been made.

Appearing with Ms. Rice, however, the European Union Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso of Portugal*, indicated that the EU had not budged on the issue, insisting that the proposed code of conduct should be an adequate safeguard.

"As you know, the European Union is moving to lift the arms embargo. We understand the United States' sensitivities in this regard. But the European Union cannot be accused of rushing into this," said Mr. Barroso. "We agree with the United States that none of us has any interest in substantially increasing the quantity and quality of the weaponry in Southeast Asia. We are working to insure that the code of conduct is designed to take account of this."

The Secretary of State said despite embargo issue, the United States and European Union have a common view overall on China and want to see that country, which she said is undergoing a remarkable and rapid economic transition, become a positive factor in international politics and the world economy:

"We are not in disagreement about China, that China should try much, much harder to take the lesson that has been there for so many, that economic liberalization and political liberalization need to go hand-in-hand," said Ms. Rice. "That is why human rights is a concern not just for the United States but for the European Union. Religious freedom is a concern not just for the United States but for the European Union."

Ms. Rice said both the United States and EU engage with, and have good relations with China and support its membership in the World Trade Organization. But she said they also want China to live up to commitments made for its WTO accession, including respect for intellectual property rights.

*corrected 10 February 2005

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