Chinese leader Jiang Zemin gave his support to European-led opposition to a war on Iraq, telling the French president on Thursday that a new U.N. resolution on Iraq is not necessary.
But he didn't say whether China would use its veto on the U.N. Security Council to block an American-backed resolution that would authorize military action.
"The Chinese side still supports using political means to resolve the Iraq issue. The door of peace should not be closed," the Xinhua News Agency quoted Jiang as telling President Jacques Chirac in a phone call Thursday.
Jiang told Chirac that Beijing agrees with a statement made Wednesday by the foreign ministers of France, Russia and Germany, who said they would "not allow" passage of the U.S.-backed resolution.
The European statement did not use the word veto but implied as much on the part of Russia and France.
Earlier Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told journalists that "China endorses and supports the contents" of the foreign ministers' statement. But he too demurred when asked if Beijing would use its veto.
"I think it is too early for you to raise this question," he said. "There is still a possibility for a political solution."
The U.N. Security Council is divided on how to handle Iraq. The United States, Britain and Spain are trying to muster support for their resolution. Washington has indicated it might proceed with military action against Iraq without U.N. approval.
Tang said Resolution 1441, which was passed in November and set up the current, tougher weapons inspection regime in Iraq, was working.
Hundreds of Russians, meanwhile, left Baghdad on Thursday in anticipation of war, even as Iraq destroyed six more Al Samoud 2 missiles in an effort to prevent a war.
Three charter flights to Moscow were posted on the board at Saddam International Airport, and hundreds of Russians milled about the waiting room, witnesses said. Journalists were told not to go to the airport.
An official at the Russian Embassy who wouldn't give his name said "as many as 600" Russian citizens were leaving on two charter flights Thursday. He hung up when pressed for details.
Russia's Foreign Ministry in Moscow has said the Emergency Situations Ministry would fly Russian workers and their families out of Iraq by Sunday, according to the Interfax news agency. It said the Russian Embassy will continue to operate.
Hundreds of Russians and Ukrainians have already returned home from Iraq over the past few weeks.
U.N. weapons inspectors returned to the Al-Taji military compound north of Baghdad to oversee the destruction of the banned missiles, which can fly farther than allowed under U.N. resolutions.
An official at Iraq's Information Ministry said six missiles were being crushed Thursday. That would bring the number of missiles destroyed since Saturday to 34, out of an estimated stock of about 100.
President Saddam Hussein called the missiles a "minor issue" and said Wednesday that the order to destroy them was a ploy to demoralize the Iraqi people before an American attack.
"Why do they focus on this detail?" he told a group of army commanders. "Because they think that such minor issues will affect your morale."
Inspectors also were seen Thursday at al-Aziziya, a former helicopter airfield 60 miles southeast of Baghdad where Iraq says it unilaterally destroyed 157 R-400 bombs armed with biological weapons in 1991.
The inspectors have been overseeing excavations of the buried bombs and taking samples of the liquid sloshing around inside those still intact to see if it includes — as Iraq claims — anthrax, aflatoxin and botulin toxin.
Iraq also has opened a pit where it says it dumped stocks of anthrax and VX, along with neutralizing agents, around the same time. Iraq has asked inspectors to analyze soil samples to verify the unilateral destruction.
Iraq is preparing a letter to the inspectors suggesting methods they could use to quantify the samples, but inspectors are skeptical.