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Castro Arrives in Beijing for 4-Day Visit


Cuban President Fidel Castro is in Beijing for talks about Iraq, trade with China, and other issues. Fidel Castro's meeting with China's President Jiang Zemin brings together two communist leaders who share concerns about the American march toward war with Iraq and growing U.S. power elsewhere.

At the just-completed Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Mr. Castro blasted what he called the "almost certain and unnecessary" U.S. war with Iraq. China has been urging Washington to seek a peaceful solution to divest Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and allow more time for diplomacy.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan says relations between Cuba and China are "mutually supportive" and "developing smoothly."

China is Cuba's third largest trading partner, and Mr. Kong says the two sides will talk about boosting trade between their two nations, which he says now totals only about $420 million a year.

Ties between Havana and Beijing were not close during the Cold War when Cuba was a client state of the Soviet Union. But the collapse of the Soviet State cost Cuba the subsidies that had been propping up its economy, which has been hurt by a decades-long embargo by the nearby United States. Increased trade with China's fast-growing economy could help get Cuba's limping economy going again.

President Castro, with his bushy beard and wearing his distinctive green military-style uniform and cap, showed both his age and his political skills on his airport arrival in Beijing.

The 76-year-old revolutionary leader stepped carefully down the gangway of his airliner, leaning on the railing and his aids. But he then took considerable time to shake hands warmly with the many waiting Chinese officials before taking off in a motorcade.

President Castro's Asian trip earlier took him to Vietnam and may include a stop in Japan before he returns to Havana.

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