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China adds voice to Iraq war doubts

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BEIJING, China -- The Chinese government says its position on potential war with Iraq is "extremely close" to that of France, which says all possible action must be taken to avoid conflict.

Responding to reporters questions Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said Beijing was "worried and uneasy about the large-scale military build-up" in the Gulf region.

"I think our position is extremely close to that of France," she said.

On Wednesday, French President Jacques Chirac joined with German Chancellor Gerhard Schoeder in saying he was not convinced a war with Iraq was necessary and would await the latest findings from United Nations weapons inspectors.

"Everything must be done to avoid war," Chirac told reporters in Paris.

"Any decision belongs to the Security Council and the Security Council alone, which will address the issue after having examined the latest inspectors' report."

Speaking alongside the German leader he said: "As far as we're concerned, war always means failure." (Paris, Berlin stand firm)

Veto power

The Franco-German stance received short shrift in Washington on Wednesday where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred to them as problems say their views represented that of "old Europe." (Rumsfeld attacks Germany, France)

China and France are both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council with veto powers.

The other three veto-carrying council members are Russia, the United States and Britain, all of whom have the power to block the body's resolutions

Next month Germany is due to assume the council's rotating presidency, a move that could further complicate U.S. efforts to win international backing for action against Baghdad.

Schroeder repeatedly voiced concerns over the possibility of war with Iraq, saying Germany was not ready to back any new United Nations resolutions authorizing the use of force.

Diplomatic solution

Although China voted in favor of last November's U.N. resolution giving Iraq a last chance to disarm or face "serious consequences", it has repeatedly spoken in support of a diplomatic solution to the issue.

Earlier this week Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said he favored giving the team of weapons inspectors in Iraq more time to search for weapons.

China's voicing of its concerns come against a background of increasing troop deployment in the Gulf region.

The U.S. and U.K. make up the overwhelming bulk of that deployment, although on Thursday Australia began to add its presence, dispatching the transport ship HMAS Kanimbla and its 350 sailors to the region. (Full story)

Further Australian land- and airborne forces are expected to make their way to the Gulf in the coming days.

Washington, meanwhile ,says that as yet no decision has been made to go to war.

Rumsfeld told reporters earlier this week the Bush administration was waiting to see whether the U.N. inspections team yielded results.



Reuters contributed to this report.

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