US's Gates appeals to China for help on Iran

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

Gates said he raised the issue of Iran in his meetings yesterday with Chinese defence and foreign ministry officials, although it did not come up during talks with President Hu Jintao on Tuesday, which he said 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, Middle East 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 percent of its oil there -- favours talks to resolve the issue of its nuclear programme.

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, did not adequately explain why Beijing shot down one of it 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 not explained why its billion military budget is posting double-digit growth.

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

Gates said he reiterated the US position on Taiwan, the self-governed island China claims as its own, saying that it was opposed to 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 ARB DS1200

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