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China's Vote on UN Iraq Resolution Uncertain - 2003-03-11


China's government will not say if it will join Russia and France in vetoing a proposed United Nations resolution authorizing war to disarm Iraq.

China said it agrees with Russian and French opposition to the proposed United Nations resolution on Iraq. But on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan would not say if China will join Moscow and Paris in vetoing the resolution, or if Beijing will abstain.

Mr. Kong repeats Beijing's long-standing position that the Iraq issue should be settled peacefully through the United Nations, and that weapons inspectors should have more time to do their work.

Russia and France say they will veto the resolution sponsored by the United States, Britain and Spain, which would authorize military action to disarm Iraq.

The United Nations passed a resolution last year demanding that Iraq give up its alleged efforts to build nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. That resolution threatens "serious consequences" if Baghdad does not comply and cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors.

Britain and the United States are continuing a diplomatic effort to round up the votes to pass the new resolution, which would open the way to war.

On Monday evening, U.S. President George W. Bush telephoned China's President Jiang Zemin to discuss the issue. Mr. Jiang urged patience and calm to solve the dispute, and said weapons inspections should continue.

The two leaders also talked about the looming crisis over North Korea's nuclear programs. President Jiang said North Korea should avoid actions such as its test of short-range missile Monday that could further raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Although the United States said it is willing to hold talks with North Korea to settle the issue, it wants the talks to include China, South Korea, and Japan. North Korea insists on talking only with the United States.

At Tuesday's Foreign Ministry briefing in Beijing, Mr. Kong said the form of the talks matters much less than whether they are conducted sincerely and deal with issues of substance.

Last year U.S. officials said North Korea admitted it was violating international agreements with a program to make nuclear weapons. Since then, Washington has ended oil shipments promised under a 1994 agreement that was supposed to shut down North Korea's nuclear efforts. Pyongyang has expelled international nuclear monitors and pulled out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

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