BRUSSELS, Belgium – Renewing a U.S. demand that allies maintain an arms embargo on China (search), the Bush administration on Tuesday said it would welcome a European decision to reconsider the controversial issue.
Responding to reports attributed to European diplomats that a decision to authorize weapons sales was being reconsidered, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said, "Certainly, if they were true, that would be good, that would be welcome."
He went on to say "we do not think the time is right for lifting the arms embargo on China. It would not send the right signal" and was not justified.
But Ereli said it was not aware of any direct confirmation from Europeans of the reports the embargo would be kept in place.
The allies are under pressure from the United States and also reacting to the toughened Chinese stance on Taiwan.
A European diplomat said Monday that at a minimum such weapons as night-vision goggles and submarine technology would not be sold.
Europeans have discussed a "code of conduct" designed to keep dangerous weapons out of China's hands.
The Bush administration maintains that the weapons could be turned against Taiwan (search) as China attempts to assert its sovereignty over the island.
There also is strong opposition in Congress to arms sales to China.
President Bush has sought to repair frayed relations with the Europeans in some areas, as differences over going to war with Iraq recede, but remains determined to persuade the allies not to lift an embargo imposed after the bloody crackdown on Chinese dissenters at Tiananmen Square (search) in 1989.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the allies Sunday that they "should do nothing" that alters the military balance of power in Asia through the sale of sophisticated weapons.
At the same time, she is struggling to enlist China in a more vigorous effort to lure North Korea to resume nuclear disarmament talks.
The Europeans had countered with an offer to put certain weapons out of China's reach, but even so, the European diplomat told reporters over lunch the allies had taken no final decision to proceed with arms sales.
Speaking on condition that he not be not be identified by name or country, the diplomat said Europeans had a right to sell China non-lethal weapons and so-called dual-use equipment capable of civilian and military uses.
Clarification of the latest European position is expected soon from the European Council (search) in Brussels.
China's assertion that it would use military force if Taiwan formally declares independence has made it more difficult for the European Union (search) to lift an arms embargo on the mainland, Britain's foreign secretary said Sunday.
France and Germany have taken the lead toward lifting the embargo, because they want to let their weapons companies tap the Chinese market.
China passed a law this month codifying its intention to use military force against Taiwan should the island declare formal independence.
"Politically there are problems and these problems have actually got more difficult rather than less difficult, not least because there hasn't been much movement by China in respect of human rights," Jack Straw told Britain's ITV network.
"And for their own reasons they decided to pass this new law authorizing the use of force in the event of Taiwan seceding," he said. "So it's created quite a difficult political environment."
Lifting the embargo would allow sale of technology and weapons that China badly wants to modernize its creaky military.