Gates appeals to China to help US on Iran

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BEIJING, Nov 6 (Reuters) U S Defense Secretary Robert Gates has appealed to China for help in curbing Iran's nuclear programme, arguing that a stable Gulf was in the interests of Beijing's energy security.

Gates said he had raised the issue of Iran in his meetings on Monday with Chinese defence and foreign ministry officials, although it had not come up during talks with President Hu Jintao today, which he said had focused on military relations.

''An Iran that is a destabilising force in the region is not in anyone's interest, including in China's,'' Gates told reporters as he toured the Forbidden City.

''If one is interested in long-term energy security, then a stable Persian Gulf, West Asia area is a very high priority.'' Both the United States and China are veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council.

But while Washington is seeking tougher UN sanctions on Iran, China -- which sources about 12 per cent of its oil there -- favours talks to resolve the issue of its nuclear programme.

China's Foreign Ministry said Beijing and Washington had common goals on Iran.

''We both believe Iran should not have nuclear weapons and we also both believe in safeguarding the Non-Proliferation Treaty,'' Liu Jianchao told a regular news conference.

But he added: ''China believes we should emphasise dialogue and negotiation between relevant parties''.

Tehran says its atomic programme is purely for energy generation and has refused to halt uranium enrichment after two previous UN sanctions resolutions. Washington believes Iran is trying to produce a nuclear bomb.

''CANDID'' Gates said he also hoped his talks in China would lead to a long-term dialogue to resolve issues between the two countries over transparency and China's military buildup.

''I hope what will come out of it is an ongoing dialogue about these (issues). It's not a matter of just raising it and each side sort of having a set-piece response,'' he said.

Yesterday, the two sides agreed to set up a hotline following talks that both described as ''candid'', but they remained at odds over the scope of China's military modernisation and an anti-satellite test.

Gates said his Chinese counterpart, Cao Gangchuan, had not adequately explained why Beijing shot down one of its own satellites with a ground-based missile in January, a move that raised the spectre of a space arms race. China says its space programmes are entirely for peaceful purposes.

Washington also persistently complains that Beijing has failed to explain why its billion military budget is posting double-digit growth.

Comments by Gates and President Hu -- who said the visit would be ''conducive for the building of a deeper trust between us'' -- reflect a much warmer relationship after the two militaries broke off contact in 2001 following a collision between a Chinese fighter jet and a US spy plane.

Gates said he had reiterated Washington's position on Taiwan, the self-governed island over which China claims sovereignty, saying it opposed moves by either side to change the status quo.

Taiwan's ruling party has been seeking to hold a referendum on joining the United Nations, a move that Gates said China had expressed concern about.

REUTERS SS HT1440

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