PM refutes EU arms embargo comments
LUXEMBOURG: Officials denied on Saturday reports that Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said there was no possibility of the European Union (EU) lifting its arms embargo on China during the first half of this year.
Saturday's issue of Luxemburger Wort, a German-language news-paper with the highest circulation in the country, carried a report that Juncker had ruled out the possibility of lifting the ban during the country's EU presidency.
Briefing the press after an informal EU foreign ministers' meeting, Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said: "I called the prime minister about an hour ago, he said he did not say that."
Asselborn said he called the prime minister, who is in the United States, after he learned of the reports on Saturday morning.
"Our position on the issue stands as I said yesterday," he added.
On Friday, Asselborn said the EU would "continue to work" on the issue and "good progress has been made."
"The Luxembourg Presidency will manage to find a solution," he said after EU foreign ministers spent most of Friday afternoon discussing EU ties with China.
However, he said the issue of lifting the ban was very "complex" and "it is not up to Luxembourg or the European Commission alone" to resolve.
An EU summit last December mandated Luxembourg to "finalize" preparations on the issue during its EU presidency to enable EU leaders to reach a decision.
While EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the EU aims to completely normalize relations with China, and the lifting of the EU's 16-year-old ban on arms sales to China is not the only topic in bilateral ties.
In an interview with the German economic daily Handelsblatt published on Friday, Solana said China was an important country that is playing an increasingly important role in the world.
Solana expressed his hope that the EU would strengthen ties with China.
The lifting of the ban is a topic in bilateral ties, but not the most significant one, he added.
As to the date of the lifting, he said: "I don't want to commit myself on whether the EU decision will occur in June or later," adding that the EU will do so when the time is right.
Solana also criticized US threats of sanctions against the EU, saying: "I don't like these noises about sanctions."
(China Daily 04/18/2005 page2)