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China seen helpful on Iran if Russia moves Zoellick

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, May 11 (Reuters) China ''will not be an obstacle'' to efforts to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions if the United States can convince Russia to get tough on Tehran, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick has said.

The State Department's number two diplomat, who is in charge of a new US strategic dialogue with China, told a congressional hearing yesterday that China, like the United States, wanted to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power but feared losing access to Iran's oil. China has also invested heavily in Iran's oil industry.

''They've been given a little bit of cushion because of Russia,'' Zoellick told the US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations.

''If we can bring Russia along with some of this, my own sense is that China will not be an obstacle in the process,'' he said, referring to China's tendency to avoid being isolated on big global issues.

Washington and its European allies are seeking a UN Security Council resolution that would require Iran to stop enriching uranium, often feared as a precursor to building a nuclear weapon, or face possible sanctions.

Russia and China have so far resisted Washington's calls for tougher UN action.

As a sweetener for China, US Treasury Secretary John Snow said yesterday he did not believe that China was manipulating its currency to keep it inflated but pressed for Beijing to let the yuan slide. Some economists believe that it is overvalued by as much as 40 percent, which hurts US exports to China.

'WE'RE WATCHING' The challenge for the United States was to convince Beijing that Chinese concerns about acquiring fuel for its rapidly growing economy were not served by an Iran which destabilizes its region with nuclear proliferation, support for terrorism and threats to Israel, Zoellick said.

''They want to be seen as sharing strategic interests with the United States,'' Zoellick said. ''What we have to translate that into is common interests with complementary policies.'' US lawmakers used the hearing to criticize China's oil-driven courtship of Sudan and its close ties to authoritarian regimes in Zimbabwe, Myanmar and North Korea.

Zoellick said that he has urged Beijing to understand that support for such governments ''can backfire on them.'' ''They're better off trying to support some of the main objectives that we, the European Union or others are trying to promote,'' he said.

''Whether it be Burma, whether it be Sudan, whether it be some of these other issues, at a minimum, we need to make clear to the Chinese: 'We're watching and others are watching.''' REUTERS PDS PM0437

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