The US on Tuesday reaffirmed its adamant opposition to the lifting of an EU arms embargo on China after talks with the foreign ministers of two European countries backing the move.
US officials would not confirm whether the weapons ban on China came up in discussions with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on Tuesday and with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw the day before.
But both the White House and the State Department expressed displeasure with the prospect that the EU would lift an arms embargo slapped on the Chinese after the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.
"We are, indeed, opposed to lifting the embargo on China," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "We think it's not the right policy decision, not the right time, given China's human-rights record, and sends the wrong signal."
Boucher said Washington was also concerned about "particular types of weapons systems that might be sold that could alter or change the military situation" in the Taiwan Strait.
EU leaders declared their "political will" to lift the embargo last month, while stressing that Beijing must respect human rights and regional stability. Straw yesterday said the weapons ban would likely be gone in six months.
Boucher said the move had been the subject of "frequent discussion" and "we do stay in close touch with the Europeans on this."
The issue of arms sales to China is likely to figure prominently next month when US President George W. Bush tours Europe to repair rifts left over from the Iraq war.
Fischer conferred on Tuesday with outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell and his designated successor, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who both met with Straw on Monday.
The German chief diplomat told reporters he had discussed a range of issues with Rice, including Iran, Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broader Middle East. He did not mention China.
"It was very constructive discussion and a very open discussion we had," Fischer said. "And I'm looking forward to continue this discussion during the visit of the president."
Fischer, speaking earlier to German reporters, called for closer coordination between the US and the Europeans in an effort to persuade Iran to give up its suspected nuclear-weapons programs.
Germany, France and Britain are negotiating with Tehran with the Americans largely on the sidelines. But Fischer said the Europeans and Washington "are not very far apart" on appreciating the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
"I think if we can bring forward diplomacy in a closely coordinated manner between Europe and the United States, this would be an important step forward," he said. "For us it is important that we do all we can to bring together the positions in an intense dialogue across the Atlantic so that we can make diplomatic progress."
Fischer also said that his country still has "an interest that the political process in Iraq succeeds."
The German envoy said the entire international community would benefit from "a stable Iraq which is gradually evolving towards democracy."