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China to Consider Forgiving Some Iraqi Debt - 2003-12-29


China says it will consider forgiving a part of the money Iraqi owes it.

Former Secretary of State James Baker came to Beijing as part of a fast-paced tour of Asia, in which he aimed to draw pledges of support for the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

A major goal was to persuade Asian nations to waive billions of dollars owed them by the former regime of Saddam Hussein.

In Beijing, the U.S. envoy held separate meetings with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao.

The meetings were followed by an announcement by China's official news agency, Xinhua. It quoted Prime Minister Wen as saying China "will consider" forgiving part of Iraq's debt to Chinese creditors for "humanitarian" reasons.

Earlier in Tokyo, Mr. Baker won a more significant pledge from Japan, which said it would waive most of the $4 billion owed to it by Iraq. But Japanese officials said they would do so only if the group of creditor nations known as the Paris Club agrees to do likewise.

Beijing's concession appeared to be less than Washington had hoped for, but Mr. Baker put a positive face on it as he came out of his meeting with President Hu.

"[It] was a very good meeting and a very productive meeting," he said.

Neither side offered any details on the discussions.

Analysts said prospects of China's cooperation with the United States on the reconstruction of Iraq appeared to be uncertain before Mr. Baker's arrival in Beijing.

China was among the most vocal opponents of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Beijing has recently criticized, what it says, are U.S. moves to exclude nations that opposed the invasion from getting a slice of the reconstruction pie.

The Communist Party newspaper, the People's Daily, accused the United States of working to monopolize the benefits of Iraq's reconstruction.

China has not said how much Iraq owes it, but observers and a state-run newspaper say the figure amounts to several billion dollars.

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