Chinese President Lobbies Blair Against War

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Chinese President Jiang Zemin told British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Sunday that U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq are working and the world must take "as much time as is needed" to defuse the situation and avoid war.

The government's Xinhua News Agency and the Foreign Ministry announced the afternoon conversation between the two leaders. The ministry said Jiang emphasized that military force will not solve the world's problems.

"War is to no one's advantage," the ministry quoted Jiang as saying, reiterating statements he has made in recent days. "Whatever the cost, it's in everybody's interest to take as much time as is needed."

Britain supports the United States, which has said Iraq's time to give up its weapons of mass destruction has run out and is mobilizing for military action. On Friday, Britain proposed a U.S.-supported motion giving Saddam Hussein until March 17 to prove he has disarmed.

France, Russia and China -- all with veto power as permanent U.N. Security Council members -- rejected the ultimatum, put forward after chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei gave largely upbeat assessments of Iraq's cooperation. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Security Council would vote on the resolution this week.

China has long said it opposes any military action, especially outside the purview of the United Nations, if any chance of a political solution remains.

But Beijing, whose trade relationship with Washington is crucial to its economy, has refused to say if it would invoke its veto power.

Jiang also invited Blair to visit China next month, the Foreign Ministry said.

In Britain, Blair's office said only that he was continuing diplomatic efforts this weekend from his country residence, Chequers.

"The prime minister is in regular touch with world leaders but we are not giving a running commentary on conversations," a spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity.