Iraqi Foreign MInister
Receives China Support


(AFP) - Iraq's Foreign Minister Naji Sabri left Beijing, an Iraqi diplomat said, ending a three-day trip during which he secured vital Chinese opposition to US military action against Baghdad.
"He has left Beijing and is flying back to Baghdad," a diplomat at the Iraqi embassy in the Chinese capital told AFP.
During the visit, Sabri was told Beijing firmly opposed US strikes, an important boost as Washington turns up the rhetorical heat in arguing the necessity of unseating Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as soon as possible.
Sabri met Chinese Vice-Premier Qian Qichen and Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, as well as a series of foreign policy officials, according to reports by China's state media.
On Wednesday, Qian reiterated China's long-standing position that any disagreement between Iraq and the United States, which accuses Saddam of harbouring weapons of mass destruction, must be resolved peacefully through the United Nations.
In a clear message to Washington, Qian said Beijing was "against any use of force or threats to use force", Chinese state radio said.
"At the same time we hope that Iraq will strictly abide by Security Council resolutions, make greater efforts to continue cooperation with the United Nations and make sure that no new complications arise," said Qian.
The vice premier had also warned that the growing crisis over Iraq was creating instability in the Middle East.
"Recently the Iraqi issue has become more and more worrying, bringing new instability to the region, which is of deep concern to China," Qian was quoted as saying.
On Tuesday foreign minister Tang had taken the same line, also arguing against the use of force.
Analysts said that while largely symbolic, the comments were an important message to Washington from the Chinese leadership.
Under the terms which ended the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq is obliged to cooperate with UN disarmament inspectors who are charged with verifying that Baghdad no longer has the capacity to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.
The US government is currently trying to build international support for a possible military strike on Iraq, and has openly backed efforts to remove Saddam.
China maintains close ties with Iraq, but also backs US-led anti-terrorism efforts, a relationship cemented though an exchange of mutual security-based concessions during the visit to Beijing earlier this week of US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
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