Britain's Miliband visits China amid rancor

BEIJING (AP) — Iran's nuclear program poses a "real threat" to international security and leading nations need to join ranks to prevent the country becoming a nuclear weapons state, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Monday.

Miliband's comments came on the first day of a visit to China, which is resisting a push by Britain, the U.S. and others for a fourth round of sanctions to pressure Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

With Russia appearing to move closer to supporting new sanctions, China — which depends on Iran for much of its energy needs — would be the only one of five veto-wielding permanent U.N. Security Council members opposed to the measures.

Despite the disagreement, the five countries are "all agreed on the end goal which is that Iran must not become a nuclear weapons state," Miliband said while visiting a training base for U.N. peacekeepers on the outskirts of Beijing.

"And we all agreed on a dual-track strategy which is on the one hand engagement with Iran and at the same time pressure," he said.

Miliband said he would use talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to "discuss further how we address this real threat that the Iranian nuclear program poses to international security."

Iran denies it intends to build nuclear weapons and says its program is only for peaceful purposes like power generation.

Miliband's visit is also being seen as an opportunity to smooth rancor with Beijing over the failure of December's Copenhagen climate change talks to forge a binding accord on cutting emissions and the execution of a British drug smuggler thought to be mentally ill.

During an earlier stop in China's financial hub of Shanghai, Miliband inaugurated the $38 million British pavilion at the Shanghai Expo and made a speech to students that called for progress on a global warming agreement and warned of the dangers of new barriers for foreign businesses in developing nations.

"This not only increases protectionist pressures in Europe and the U.S. It also deprives China and other emerging economies of cutting-edge technologies, which, in turn, raises their own competitiveness," Miliband said.

His speech made no mention of Iran or the continuing friction between London and Beijing that has played out in dueling accusations, diplomatic protests and statements in the media.

Britain-China ties deteriorated last December after China ignored personal appeals from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown not to execute 53-year-old Akmal Shaikh for drug smuggling. Shaikh's family said he was mentally unstable and was lured to China from a life on the street in Poland by men playing on his dreams to record a pop song for world peace.

Brown said he was "appalled" by the execution — China's first of a European citizen in nearly 60 years — prompting a warning from Beijing that such comments threatened to damage ties.

Even before that exchange, the two had clashed over December's U.N.-sponsored Copenhagen climate talks that ended without a binding agreement on emissions reductions.

In the aftermath, Britain's climate change minister, Edward Miliband — David Miliband's brother — published an editorial singling out China as the culprit behind the talks' near collapse.

Milliband did not refer to that dispute, but said Britain was "very disappointed" by Copenhagen and greater efforts were needed to come up with an agreement ahead of the next major climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico, in December.

China's relations with the United States have also been fraught with tension over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, President Barack Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama, trade issues and China's handling of the Iran nuclear issue.

While Beijing has lately cooled its angry rhetoric over such issues, a fence-mending visit to Beijing this month by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and senior White House Asia adviser Jeffrey Bader apparently produced no breakthroughs.