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Iraq Crisis Reaching Critical Stage, Warns China - 2003-03-06

China's foreign minister has warned the Iraq crisis is reaching a critical stage, and says Beijing backs France, Germany, and Russia in opposing a U.N. resolution authorizing war. The foreign minister also urged the United States to talk with North Korea to ease tensions over its nuclear programs.

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan says he sees "absolutely no need" for a new U.N. resolution on the Iraq issue.

He says U.N. weapons experts have not had time to finish the work that was supposed to be done under a resolution passed a few months ago.

That resolution ordered Iraq to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to verify that Baghdad has gotten rid of banned weapons of mass destruction, or face serious consequences.

Washington is pressing for a new U.N. resolution that would authorize military action against Iraq for hiding banned weapons and lying about disarmament.

But China says it backs a statement by France, Russia, and Germany that they would block any new U.N. resolution authorizing military force against Iraq.

France, Russia, and China all could veto resolutions in the Security Council. Mr. Tang says it is too early to say if Beijing would use its veto power.

In a news conference during China's annual two-week legislative session, Mr. Tang also urged the United States and North Korea to begin direct talks to defuse their escalating dispute. Mr. Tang says China opposes using sanctions to push North Korea to give up illegal nuclear programs.

Washington accuses Pyongyang of breaking international agreements by having a secret program to develop nuclear weapons. Mr. Tang repeated China's long-standing view that the issue must be settled peacefully, and that there must be no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

China is Pyongyang's closest ally, supplying the impoverished nation with much of its fuel and food imports. The United States has repeatedly asked Beijing to push North Korea to comply with its international treaties, but Beijing has resisted.