- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2005

A strict “code of conduct” meant to regulate European arms sales to China when a 15-year embargo is lifted later this year is not satisfactory to Washington, which continues to oppose the move, U.S. officials said yesterday.

A meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is expected to become secretary of state this week, and visiting British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw did little to bridge the differences, the officials said.

Miss Rice and Mr. Straw, they said, agreed to seek a solution acceptable — or at least less objectionable — to both the United States and the European Union before President Bush visits the continent next month.

“The EU is working on a code of conduct, but we don’t think the time is right” to lift the embargo, a senior administration official said. “We take their point, but it still sends a political signal that doesn’t need to be there.”

China’s poor human rights record, he said, does not merit ending the embargo, which was imposed after the bloody 1989 military crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

Whatever rules the European Union adopts, arms sales to China will take place and that would be against U.S. interests in the Far East, another administration official said.

One of Washington’s main concerns has been that those weapons could potentially be used against Taiwan.

But European officials argue that lifting the embargo will change neither the size nor quality of China’s arsenal.

On another issue, Miss Rice assured Mr. Straw that the administration is “committed to Iran diplomacy” to deal with Tehran’s nuclear weapons programs, the British diplomat told reporters after the meeting.

Mr. Straw made clear London’s position that military force in Iran is not a viable solution.

“We agree,” the administration official said. “It is our policy to resolve the issue diplomatically. At the same time, we never take any option off the table.”

On Sunday, a London newspaper reported that Mr. Straw had prepared a paper for the House of Commons laying out the case against military action.

The document touted ongoing negotiations with Iran led by Britain, France and Germany as being “in the best interests of Iran and the international community,” the Sunday Times said.

It also referred to “safeguarding Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology,” the paper said.

Last week, Miss Rice said that the administration doubts the European effort would succeed.

“We are skeptical that this is going to work, but we certainly hope that it’s going to work, and we will see how far the Europeans get,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearing.

“Someone needs to test the Iranian willingness to live up to their international obligations, and that’s what the EU is going to be doing,” she said.

The Europeans last week became worried about a U.S. attack on Iran, when Vice President Dick Cheney suggested in a TV interview that Israel might strike specific nuclear facilities in Iran.

“You look around at potential trouble spots. Iran is right at the top of the list,” Mr. Cheney said.

Yesterday, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said the world must take action against Iran’s nuclear ambitions because they threaten the stability of the Middle East.

“The world must mobilize against the Iranian nuclear option,” Mr. Peres said in an interview with Israeli army radio. “Iran has become the focal point of all the dangers of the Middle East.”

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