BEIJING, SEPT. 26 -- Premier Zhao Ziyang says China will attempt to prevent exports of Chinese weapons from being diverted to Iran or Iraq, according to excerpts from a television interview released here today.
Western analysts said that Zhao's comments, made yesterday in an interview with NBC Nightly News, might mean that China is moving for the first time to halt what are believed to be its extensive weapons exports to Iran.
The analysts said Zhao's comments may also reflect a new willingness on China's part to go along with an arms embargo against Iran.
A western diplomat said, however, that China probably would agree to an arms embargo only if it were supported by other key nations.
In his remarks, Zhao did not concede that Iran has acquired Chinese weapons, either directly or indirectly.
U.S. officials have accused China of supplying Iran with Silkworm missiles that could be used to threaten ships as they enter or leave the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz.
Some Iranian officials have indicated that Iran acquired the missiles through the international arms market or by capturing them from Iraq. Iran's ambassador here said about six weeks ago that the missiles were copies of weapons seized from Iraq.
"Of course, we have taken note of the international reaction in this connection," Zhao told NBC. "We will make our efforts to prevent the weapons China exports from being acquired by Iran or Iraq through other channels."
Part of the interview with Zhao appeared on the NBC Nightly News last night in the United States. The interview will run in full on NBC News' Meet the Press program on Sunday.
Zhao serves as both premier and acting Communist Party secretary. He is expected to relinquish his post as premier and become permanent party secretary following a major party congress that begins Oct. 25.
In the NBC interview, Zhao said that "up to now, I still do not believe that the missiles Iran has are Chinese missiles . . . acquired through other channels."
Zhao acknowledged that China "has arms trade with quite a few countries.
"As you know, the international armaments market is very complicated," he said. "If a country has the money and is willing to offer a high price, there will be no difficulty for this country to find channels in which it can acquire weapons."
China reportedly began rethinking its policy of selling arms to Iran several months ago. But as of a few weeks ago, Chinese arms still were said to be reaching Iran, possibly to fulfill the terms of previous contracts.
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China has actively supported a U.N. resolution proposing a cease-fire in the seven-year-old Iran-Iraq war.
Beijing has not yet taken an official position on a U.S. appeal for an arms embargo against Iran if Tehran rejects the cease-fire proposal.
China has declared itself neutral in the war and has consistently denied selling weapons to either side.