Wednesday, January 11, 2006

China Offers to Help Rein in Iran

Chris Buckley, Reuters:
China has offered to help rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions and ease U.S. complaints about pirated goods ahead of a Washington visit by President Hu Jintao expected in mid-April, visiting U.S. congressmen said on Wednesday.

The chairman of China's National People's Congress, Wu Bangguo, told the congressmen China "agreed that they (Iran) should not have nuclear weapons, and agreed to working with the United States and especially the EU3" on Iran, Mark Kirk, a Republican Congressman from Illinois, told reporters.

Wu is a member of the nine-member Communist Party Standing Committee that makes the country's key decisions. The EU3 refers to Britain, France and Germany, which steer EU policy on Iran's nuclear programme.

On Tuesday, Iran resumed nuclear fuel research Washington and Brussels say could eventually be used to make nuclear weapons.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, including China, recently sent letters to Iran warning against restarting the nuclear activities.

A Western diplomatic source in the United States earlier said China had balked at sending a joint statement to Iran from all five and also tried to water down the final messages.

But Rick Larsen, a Democrat congressman from Washington State, said U.S. diplomats were "starting to hear a much more active Chinese voice on Iran and on dealing with Iran ... being very clear that China does not support nuclear weapons in Iran". READ MORE

China's foreign ministry told the U.S. lawmakers that when an Iranian deputy foreign minister recently visited Beijing, China "asked Iran to practice restraint and to rejoin the talks in order to settle this issue", said Larsen.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry said Beijing wanted Iran to settle the dispute through negotiation.

"Under present circumstances, the most viable channel remains negotiations between the EU3 and Iran," said the spokesman, Kong Quan, adding China was "maintaining close contacts" with all sides.

China's more open pressure on Iran comes as Washington prepares to host Hu Jintao after a visit scheduled for September was canceled when Hurricane Katrina struck the United States.

Kirk said the date of mid-April for Hu's visit had not been confirmed but was "buzzing around the government".

Kirk said there was growing rancor in Congress about China's trade policies and a successful visit by Hu may help bridge divisions.

"The Congress will be completing its first draft of a number of key pieces of legislation right around that time, and a successful summit ... can dramatically help things," Kirk told a meeting of U.S. executives.

On Tuesday, a U.S. senator on a separate visit to Beijing, Max Baucus, said resentment in Congress about China's $200 billion trade surplus with the United States may prompt lawmakers to pass legislation threatening to punish China unless Beijing revalues the yuan and so makes Chinese exports more expensive.

The other three visiting congressman are members of a congressional U.S.-China Working Group, which advocates more "balanced" discussion about relations with China.

Kirk said during their six-day visit in Beijing that began on Monday that China's repeated promises to post an intellectual property ombudsman in Washington to take complaints from U.S. businesses, as well as to spend $250 million on legitimate software for government offices.

Tom Feeney, a Republican congressman from Florida, said the lawmakers also discussed expanded cooperation in space, including a proposal for China to engineer the entry docks of its manned spacecraft so they could dock with U.S. and Russian craft, allowing for cooperation in space rescues.