|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-321997 US / China Arms
TITLE=U.S.-CHINA ARMS (L-ONLY)
BYLINE= DAVID GOLLUST
HEADLINE: US Reaffirms Opposition to Ending EU Arms Embargo on China
INTRO: The United States Tuesday reaffirmed its opposition, on human rights grounds, to the lifting of the European Union's 15-year-old arms embargo against China. Bush administration officials have discussed the issue this week with the visiting British and German foreign ministers. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
TEXT: The Bush administration is making clear it opposes an early end to the arms ban despite European claims that a proposed new E.U. code of conduct on arms sales might actually be more stringent than the embargo.
The European Union embargo was imposed after China's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.
It has become a source of strain in relations between China and the E.U., which otherwise enjoy close diplomatic and trade ties, and European leaders have said the embargo could be lifted within six months.
The issue is understood to have come up in meetings Monday between senior administration officials and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, and a similar round Tuesday with visiting German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
The two foreign ministers met separately with outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell and his designated successor, White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The talks have been extremely low-key, given the pending change in command at the State Department later this week.
But at a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher reaffirmed the administration's opposition to ending the embargo.
He said it would be ill-timed and send the wrong signal given the lack of improvement in China's human rights record, and U.S. concerns that European weapons sales could upset the arms balance between China and Taiwan:
Our particular view is that these are human rights problems in China that led to the imposition of the embargo, and that we have not seen any change, in fact we have seen some negative developments that lead us to think this is not the right time to withdraw the embargo. We would of course have particular concerns about particular types of weapons systems that might be sold that could alter or change the military situation in the region, particularly vis-à-vis Taiwan.
Mr. Boucher said the Bush administration is willing to look at the code of conduct on arms sales once the European Union develops it, but he gave no indication it would change the U.S. position.
In Beijing last week, Mr. Straw defended efforts to end the embargo, calling it inconsistent because it does not apply to countries with poorer human rights records like North Korea.
He said a code of conduct that regulates all weapons sales by the European Union would be wider and stronger than the ban affecting only China.
A Chinese spokesman Tuesday said the embargo was political discrimination and not in alignment with China's fast-growing relations with Europe.
The issue of the embargo looms as a potential irritant when President Bush meets European leaders in Brussels next month.
The trip to Europe is aimed in part at mending relations damaged in the run-up to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Mr. Bush will meet with, among others, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin, all of whom have been critical of U.S. Iraq policy. (Signed)
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