EU Leader Pushes China On Iran And Syria

Published February 14, 2012 10:45AM (EST)

BEIJING (AP) — The European Union urged China on Tuesday to open its markets, act more aggressively on forcing Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program and back the U.N. Security Council on Syria.

The comments from EU President Herman Van Rompuy came after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said China and the European Union need to work together to solve Europe's growing debt crisis.

Rompuy told a news conference after he and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso held talks with Wen that they discussed ways to open China's markets and address trade gaps.

"I repeatedly stressed the need for a level playing field for European business, including better market access for European companies, protection of investment and intellectual property and our concerns about protectionism," Rompuy said.

The EU leaders are in Beijing for a China-EU summit a day after rating agency Moody's downgraded its credit ratings on Italy, Portugal and Spain. France, Britain and Austria kept their top ratings but had their outlooks dropped to "negative" from "stable," meaning they too could be downgraded.

Rompuy told a news conference that the EU supported efforts of the Arab League to end the violence in Syria. China has been criticized along with Russia for vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution more than a week ago that would have pressured Syria's President Bashar Assad to step down. China says the Security Council vote was called before differences over the proposal were bridged.

Rompuy said the EU "calls on all members of the UN Security Council to act responsible in this crucial moment."

Wen said the most urgent Syrian issue is to "prevent war and chaos." He said China supports all efforts within the constitution of the U.N. Charter.

"China is absolutely not protecting any party including the government of Syria. The future of Syria is for the Syrian people to decide," he told the same news conference.

The EU has also been pushing for China's support to force Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program. China and other countries have been under pressure from the United States and Europe to cut off imports of oil from Iran. The West suspects Iran's nuclear program is aimed at producing atomic weapons. Tehran denies this charge, insisting it's geared for peaceful purposes only.

"I shared with Premier Wen our deep concern on the Iranian nuclear program and I explained to him that our actions and sanctions are aimed to bring Tehran back to the negotiating table," Van Rompuy said.

Beijing has urged Europe to get a handle on the growing financial crisis in Europe, but has not said yet if it will invest in a bailout fund designed to rescue debt-stricken states.

One positive step came in Greece, where lawmakers approved harsh new austerity measures demanded by bailout creditors to save the nation from bankruptcy.

The vote was crucial for the country to secure 130 billion euro ($172 billion) in new rescue loans and avoid a potentially catastrophic default next month. Bankruptcy could push Greece out of Europe's euro currency union, drag down other troubled euro countries and further roil global markets.

Van Rompuy said human rights were discussed, although he did not give specifics.

"As a partner and friend of China, I've also expressed the serious concern Europeans have for these achievements (in combating poverty) to be accompanied by similar progress in respecting universal human rights and rule of law," he said.

Wen said China was willing to discuss human rights but "such a dialogue should be carried out on the basis of mutual respect and objectivity in order to build further trust."


AP reporter Alexa Olesen contributed.

By Salon Staff

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