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China, one of Iraq's leading arms suppliers, shows a greater awareness than before the Gulf war of the need to control its weapons sales, United States Assistant Secretary of State Richard Solomon said March 12. Mr. Solomon made the assessment at the end of a two-day visit to Beijing, partially aimed at exploring new ways to restrain arms sales through multilateral consultations.

China became a major arms merchant to the Middle East last decade as it increasingly relied on foreign weapons sales to fund its military. Before Iraq invaded Kuwait, Beijing consistently ranked among the top four purveyors of weapons to Baghdad.

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"What's changed as a result of the Gulf conflict is that this is not simply a matter of the US talking to China" over the control of weaponry sales, Solomon says. "Everyone is acutely aware of the fact that many countries were pouring weapons into a very volatile region of the world and the situation got out of control."

US Secretary of State James Baker III is eager to construct "a multilateral framework" to control high-tech weaponry that would include Beijing, Solomon says.

In addition, Solomon disclosed that US Ambassador to China James Lilley recently discussed the plight of Chinese dissidents with a leading official at the Ministry of Public Security, China's national police force.

The meeting represented one of "some important breakthroughs" in Sino-US relations over human rights, Solomon said. Up until recent months, Beijing has refused to hold such discussions, claiming that foreign concern about human rights constituted interference in China's internal affairs.

Solomon also met with Chinese, Soviet, French, and Cambodian officials in an attempt to promote the reconciliation of warring factions in the Cambodian civil war.

Solomon left Beijing March 12 for Tokyo to continue discussions on Cambodia. He will hold similar talks in Jakarta and Bangkok during his 11-day mission.

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