China's President Jiang Zemin has told President Bush that the United Nations Security Council's authority must be protected when dealing with Iraq. China is sill aligned with the French position on Iraq - supporting inspections instead of war - although President Jiang's comments suggest he might ultimately accept a new U.N. resolution allowing the use of force.
According to the official Chinese Communist newspaper, President Jiang Zemin told President Bush Friday that China is still in favor of continuing with weapons inspections in Iraq.
The People's Daily quoted Mr. Jiang as saying that United Nations weapons inspectors had made "some progress on the whole," even though "there still existed some problems" on the Iraqi side.
Mr. Jiang also spoke with French President Jacques Chirac on Friday. Chinese news media said Mr. Jiang told Mr. Chirac that the United Nations Security Council should try all means to avoid war with Iraq.
Despite his continued alignment with the French position, however, Mr. Jiang did not seem to be ruling out entirely a new U.N. resolution authorizing military action against Iraq. Beijing has veto power in the Security Council, and could stand in the way of any such resolution.
The People's Daily quoted Mr. Jiang as saying that "it is the common aspiration of the international community to safeguard the Security Council's authority when dealing with significant issues like the Iraq issue."
One interpretation of the statement is that an invasion of Iraq might be acceptable, as long as the United States acted with U.N. backing.
President Jiang also reiterated China's stance on the North Korean nuclear issue, saying the international community wanted a "nuclear-free, peaceful and stable Korean Peninsula."
President Bush is seeking China's diplomatic help in convincing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program. A White House spokesman said that during their telephone conversation, Mr. Jiang assured Mr. Bush of China's commitment to that goal.