BEIJING - China and Russia on Thursday rejected U.S. efforts to win U.N. authorization to oust Saddam Hussein by force, saying that war with Iraq "can and should be avoided."
A joint statement issued during a visit to Beijing by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq have made progress and should be given more time.
The statement came as the U.N. Security Council prepared for its first closed-door discussion on a resolution supported by Washington authorizing war against Iraq. Russia and China are both council members with power to veto U.N. actions.
"The two sides reiterate their determination to try their utmost to promote a political solution to the Iraq issue and believe war can and should be avoided," the Russian-Chinese statement said.
The United States is seeking votes to support a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing war. The measure needs nine votes and no vetoes on the 15-member council to pass. Mexico indicated it may join the United States, Britain and Spain to back the resolution, but France, Russia and Germany are still pushing a plan to continue weapons inspections in Iraq for four more months.
Russia and China "advocate the Iraq crisis be resolved within the framework of the United Nations and through political and diplomatic means," their statement said.
"The U.N. Security Council should intensify its guidance and support the inspection work."
In a separate statement the two governments also called for direct talks between the United States and North Korea to settle tensions over the North's nuclear program.
They also called for normalization of relations between Washington and Pyongyang.
Bush's administration has pushed for multilateral talks with Pyongyang, saying the crisis must be solved with participation of other governments. North Korea has rejected that, demanding direct talks with Washington.
The two governments have no formal diplomatic ties.
China and Russia will "actively push for a political resolution of North Korea's nuclear issue through both bilateral and multilateral measures," China's official Xinhua News Agency said, paraphrasing the joint statement.
Ivanov said the two sides had discussed the Korean Peninsula and other "crucial international issues."
On North Korea, "I have to state that the position of our countries mostly coincide," he told The Associated Press.
Moscow and Beijing are North Korea's closest major allies and have been courted by Washington to help convince the isolated Stalinist regime not to restart its nuclear program.
China earlier this week rebuffed an appeal by visiting U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to support a proposal for regional talks. Instead, Chinese officials supported North Korea's appeal for direct talks with Washington.
Ivanov also met with Vice President Hu Jintao and his Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, and was scheduled to meet with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.