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China PM Makes Appeal to Avoid War - 2003-03-18

China's new prime minister is calling for an all-out effort to avoid war with Iraq. The appeal for peace comes as U.S. forces prepare to launch a military strike against Baghdad. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao says China will not give up working for a diplomatic solution to the Iraq crisis, "as long as there is a glimmer of hope."

Mr. Wen says the Iraqi situation is "like an arrow in the bow," a Chinese expression meaning that the situation could explode at any moment. But he repeats China's long-held position that any action against Baghdad must be taken with the approval of the United Nations, and that weapons inspections should be allowed to continue.

In his first news conference since he became prime minister two days ago, Mr. Wen said China's goal all along has been to maintain peace and stability in the world.

At the same time, Mr. Wen calls on the Iraqi government to strictly abide by U.N. resolutions demanding that it disarm. He says Iraq should cooperate with U.N. agencies, and destroy all weapons of mass destruction.

State media Tuesday report that China's new foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, has made telephone calls to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, asking them to be "prudent" in deciding on war with Iraq. Mr. Li, a former ambassador to the United States, also called his Russian counterpart Monday night and said China is willing to make the utmost effort to avoid war.

China is a permanent member of the United Nations and could veto any U.N. action. The Chinese appeal for peace comes just hours after President Bush delivered an ultimatum to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq within 48 hours or face a U.S. military strike.