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France Defends Effort to Lift China Arms Embargo

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier has defended a European effort to lift an arms embargo against China, despite criticism from Washington. Mr. Barnier made his remarks in a wide-ranging interview with reporters in Paris, which also touched on Iran's nuclear program.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier Barnier responded directly to remarks by Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick in Brussels. On Tuesday, Mr. Zoellick said efforts in Europe to lift an arms embargo on China would not be good for transatlantic relations.

The United States is adamantly against lifting the ban, in part because of fears Beijing will obtain high-tech weaponry. Mr. Zoellick said he understands European wishes to boost commercial ties with China, but said he wanted to explain some of the risks in terms of security in the Pacific, and the human-rights issues. He said Japan, Australia, and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region shared U.S. concerns.

Mr. Barnier said that warnings and threats were not useful in cementing newly improved relations between Europe and the United States, following deep differences over the war on Iraq.

France and Germany, who led international opposition to the war, are now leading efforts by several E.U. members to lift an arms embargo on Beijing, imposed after the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen square. Mr. Barnier described China as the main issue of disagreement between Europe and the United States.

The French foreign minister defended the idea of lifting the embargo. He said today China is a major world power, a member of the World Trade Organization, and is hosting the 2008 Olympic Games.

China, Mr. Barnier said, cannot be treated like Zimbabwe, which has also been criticized by the international community for its poor human-rights record.

Mr. Barnier said that Europe's objective in lifting the ban was not to increase arms sales in the region, but to establish a strategic and responsible dialogue with China. He suggested that lifting the ban would lead to tougher European codes of conduct on selling arms overseas.

Overall, Mr. Barnier stressed warming bilateral ties with the United States.

He said he hopes to make regular trips to the United States, although a visit this week had to be postponed because of the death of Pope John Paul.

Mr. Barnier also pointed to Washington's support for European talks with Iran as another example of improved transatlantic relations. France, Germany, and Britain are trying to persuade Tehran through diplomatic means to renounce its alleged nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Barnier said the Europeans are progressing with open eyes with the Iranians. The talks were fragile he said, but they are progressing.

Washington has expressed impatience at the slow-moving negotiations, but Mr. Barnier refused to be pinned down on a deadline for completing the talks.