BEIJING (AFP) — France's foreign minister held talks with China's leaders Wednesday to pave the way for President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit and push Beijing on a range of sensitive issues, including Myanmar and Iran.
At the start of Bernard Kouchner's two-day trip, both sides talked up the prospects of continued warm bilateral relations despite differences over human rights and France's call for China to do more to resolve tensions in Myanmar.
Kouchner said he discussed with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi the French president's first visit to China, scheduled for late November.
"The conversation with the prime minister was very cordial and warm," he told reporters.
Kouchner said he had one-to-one talks with Yang over a series of sensitive issues including the dispute over Iran's nuclear programme, the ongoing violence in Sudan's Darfur region and political turmoil in Myanmar.
"We don't always agree but we have a convergence of views on the goals to reach, or at least the ways to achieve them," he told reporters.
Paris has hardened its line on the Iranian nuclear issue since Sarkozy came to power in May and has voiced support for both UN and European sanctions against Tehran.
China has repeatedly opposed sanctions.
Kouchner told AFP earlier he would also push China to do more in using its influence with the Myanmar government to end the political and social turmoil in the Southeast Asian country.
He said China was pivotal to strengthening UN efforts to bring about reform in Myanmar and it must push the military junta to talk with the democratic opposition.
China, a major supplier of weapons to Myanmar, has been criticised for not taking tougher action after the generals' bloody crackdown on September's mass protests that left at least 13 people dead.
However, Kouchner pointed out it was largely due to China's influence that UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari was able to travel to Myanmar at the end of last month to meet with the generals. He is due to return there on Saturday to continue the push for democratic reforms, according to a diplomat in Yangon.
China has pledged to assist Gambari in further mediation efforts but must now help "to expand and give him some new possibilities," Kouchner said.
"We want to set up, if it's possible... a kind of international support for Gambari," he told reporters later.
"Some of Asian countries agree. China accepts the idea, but they are not publicly in favour for the time being... (but) I believe it will come."
Kouchner earlier said that both he and Sarkozy were prepared to raise issues that their hosts may not want to hear, such as China's human rights problems.
Analysts told AFP before Kouchner's visit that his trip would set the tone for Sarkozy's dealings with Beijing amid expectations that France may veer from the cosy relationship maintained by his predecessor, Jacques Chirac.
Despite the various differences, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang said after his talks with Kouchner that the two nations could look forward to a continued strong relationship.
"China and France are friendly nations and overall strategic partners. We share broad consensus on a range of regional and international issues, which was further borne out in our talks," Yang said.
"We believe the momentum remains good for further development of ties, our strategic dialogue is gaining depth, and our international cooperation is broadening."
While Kouchner has previously expressed his support for the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing regards as a dangerous figure seeking independence for Tibet, the French foreign minister said Sarkozy had no plans to meet the spiritual leader.
"I know of no such desire," Kouchner said when asked earlier if Sarkozy would meet the Dalai Lama, as the leaders of the United States, Germany and Canada have done recently, much to the anger of China.
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