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A veto dilemma for three nations

The US is expected to introduce a tough new proposal on Iraq inspections at the UN Security Council this week.

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Driving both countries' international actions are daunting economic and social concerns.

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"If you look carefully at Moscow and Beijing, you realize they're coming from largely the same perspective," says Melvin Goodman, a Russia specialist at the National War College in Washington. "The Chinese have no illusions about the Bush administration," and the Russians have felt the glow come off their relations with the US since the high-water mark of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch last year.

But he says both countries believe they have to play their relationship with the US to suit domestic challenges. While President Putin may not be happy about US decisions on arms control or Bush's new National Security Strategy, "his target right now is a greater American involvement in the Russian economy."

China remains cautious toward the US for reasons ranging from Taiwan to America's pro-democracy rhetoric. But by and large, the Chinese leadership believes its standing with Washington has improved over the past year. Part of the reason, experts say, is Sept. 11.

Bush's shift on China

In its early days, the Bush administration "called China a rising military power to be watched, and there was talk that suggested the US would move more into the Asian theater, and that made China nervous," says David Lampton, director of China studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. "But after Sept. 11 the focus of American security has shifted away from the Chinese to terrorism, and that is undeniably good from their point of view."

Mr. Lampton, who just returned from a trip to China during which he interviewed a range of Chinese leaders and intellectuals, says the dominant view is that the Chinese regime now has a window of time for focusing on domestic issues. And he says that with Chinese President Jiang Zemin scheduled to join Bush at Crawford in late October, it is most unlikely the Chinese would do anything to sour the visit.

"They've seen Putin and [Saudi leader] Prince Abdullah invited to Crawford, and they see this as a visible sign they have a special relationship with the US," Lampton says. "They value that."

The Chinese recently published regulations for the export of certain missile and weapons materials, something the US had been pressing them to do.

And in a move that surely pleased the Chinese, the Bush administration last week reversed course and announced it would send a high-level diplomat this week to North Korea – which, like Iraq, is a member of Bush's "axis of evil" – for talks.

The Brookings Institution's Mr. Bush notes that the administration's national security document also contains less-confrontational language on Taiwan.

Yet if US–China relations have improved, Russia specialists say the opposite is true with Russia. In part that's because the "glow" of Putin's Crawford visit was bound to dull. But Russia's desire to treat rebellious Chechens as their own version of the Taliban, its economic ties to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and a creeping Russian sense that the Americans have offered an empty friendship, have taken their toll.

Still, an overriding desire to not run afoul of the US may stop either country from stamping a veto on an Iraq resolution, these experts believe. "If it's a matter of joining others to influence the Americans that's one thing," says Lampton. "But the Chinese will not want to stand alone."

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