China, Russia leaders reject force on Iran, N.Korea

Date: 03-26-07

By Oleg Shchedrov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian leader Vladimir Putin called on Monday for peaceful solutions to the crises over Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs and pledged to stop an arms race in space.

The two leaders, who hope to counter Washington's clout by promoting internationally agreed solutions to world crises, said in a joint declaration that they shared a common position on big global issues.

"I would like to emphasize with satisfaction that the positions of Russia and China on all the issues discussed either coincide or are similar," Putin said.

Hu, on his third visit to Russia, described Putin as "my good friend" and spoke of the "warm atmosphere of trust" at their meeting, underlining the growing friendliness between the two erstwhile Communist rivals.

"We have agreed that strategic cooperation between China and Russia, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, has major importance for international affairs in creating a favorable atmosphere, in making international relations more democratic and ensuring global peace," Hu added.

There was no immediate sign of major new energy deals between Russia, the world's second biggest oil exporter, and resource-hungry China.

The leaders pledged to increase "bilateral, long-term strategic cooperation" on energy but signed only a protocol to increase Russian oil deliveries to China, something already promised in the past by Moscow.

Putin and Hu then presided over a ceremony in a Kremlin hall formally opening the Year of China in Russia.

The leaders addressed the audience of 6,000 dignitaries from a stage featuring a giant backdrop showing a Chinese panda holding hands with a Russian bear.

A joint Sino-Russian declaration said that the problem of Iran's civilian nuclear program, believed by Washington to be a cover for an atomic weapon, "should be resolved exclusively in a peaceful way, through negotiations."

The wording on North Korea was similar, with both sides aiming to find "a full and all-encompassing solution to the nuclear problem of the Korean peninsula through a peaceful, diplomatic way."

China and Russia have used the threat of their veto at the United Nations as an instrument to blunt Western efforts to impose sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

The two nations said they wanted to prevent an arms race in space and underlined the importance of international agreements to prevent the deployment of weapons in space.

In an apparent rebuff to Washington's efforts to build influence in the vast Central Asian region, Hu and Putin pledged to "strengthen cooperation with Central Asian countries in the political, trade and economic spheres, as well as in security issues."

Putin earlier praised the "high level of cooperation in the arms sector and between our militaries" - a reference to Russia's big and lucrative arms sales to China - but did not give details.

The two countries' potential partnership has been stymied by their desire to keep a state grip on energy deals. Previous plans for key oil and gas pipelines have languished after both sides trumpeted initial agreements.

On Wednesday, Hu was to visit the oil-rich region of Tatarstan, which may yield an oil deal with the regional oil firm Tatneft, a local government spokeswoman said. She declined to give details and said the deal was not yet definite.

(Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Moscow)


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