China has expressed concern about instability in Iraq and has called for the United Nations to take the lead in handling the situation. The issue came up at talks in London between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The meeting between the Chinese and British leaders was intended to focus on trade, but the issue of Iraq dominated their joint news conference in light of the reports of prisoner abuse by coalition troops.

Mr. Wen did not address the prisoner scandal directly, but said he is worried about the need to restore stability in Iraq, as he explained through an interpreter.

?The unstable situation in Iraq we feel very concerned and even worried about. We must hand over the government back to the Iraqi people as soon as possible. We need to give the U.N. the leading role in the resolution of the Iraqi issue. Iraq should resume its stability as soon as possible. You can only reconstruct if you have stability.?

Prime Minister Blair skirted questions as to how much the scandal may have undermined his appeal to Mr. Wen to improve China's human rights record.

But he stressed that the allegations of prisoner mistreatment by some coalition troops should not taint the vast majority of soldiers deployed in Iraq.

?Whatever had happened in respect to the minority, a small minority of people, should not detract from the work that British troops are doing in Basra, helping ordinary Iraqi people,? Mr. Blair said

British human rights activists say the prisoner abuse scandal weakened Mr. Blair's ability to pressure Mr. Wen. A spokesman for the London-based Minority Rights Group International, Mark Lattimer, said the Chinese leader could easily deflect the criticism.

?This time around his (Wen's) armor is pretty tight with regard to British criticism of human rights abuses in China. That is a real pity because those abuses are extreme, they continue,? Mr. Lattimer said. ?China continues to judiciously execute more than the rest of the world put together, some 15,000 people a year. 200,000 people are locked up without charge or trial in the so-called re-education through labor camps. Religious freedoms in China are everywhere denied, whether it's to Buddhists in Tibet, to Muslims in Xingjian, to Christians or the Falun Gong movement.?

But the primary purpose of the Wen visit was to promote more trade between Britain and China, and on that score experts say the trip was a success, with about one billion dollars in new deals signed.

The president of the China-Britain Business Council, Charles Powell, told British television that as China grows in wealth, political reform will follow.

?Greater prosperity in China means eventually more people want to have a bigger say in how they want to run their lives, and that will mean steady progress towards democracy. Okay, it's probably some way off, but it's going in the right direction,? Mr. Powell said.

The Chinese and British leaders agreed to meet annually to promote trade and political ties. They also announced joint cooperation in several fields, including anti-terrorism and non-proliferation.