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A series of leaked cables signed by U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. shine a light on the diplomatic dance between China and the United States, as the two superpowers collaborate in a common interest to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in North Korea and Iran.
The cables depict Chinese officials as de facto U.S. liaisons with both Iran and North Korea, conveying messages and delivering information and, at times, encouraging the United States to pursue diplomatic channels.
But several cables, sent in February by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, instruct the embassy to prod the Chinese to take action to stop Iran from acquiring missile parts and technology, including gyroscopes, carbon fiber and thermal imaging systems, from Chinese companies.
The diplomatic cables to or from the Beijing embassy are some of the early documents released by WikiLeaks, part of more than 250,000 such memos obtained by the group.
The release of the documents has led to condemnation from the White House and political leaders from both parties.
Kai He, a political science professor at Utah State University who specializes in China, had not read the cables, but said he doubts they will do much damage between relations between the United States and China.
"It may cause some embarrassments and hard feelings for both governments. They still need to do business with one another eventually," he said
In one key cable, a Chinese source told the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in January that the hacking of Google's systems in the country was orchestrated by the Chinese Politburo which runs the Communist Party in China and carried out by saboteurs recruited by the Chinese government, according to The New York Times, which has been provided all the transmissions.
That cable has not been publicly released.
It is unclear exactly what role Huntsman, who was Utah's governor until August 2009, played in the meetings. He was apparently not an active participant in the meetings.
In an August 2009 meeting, Ni Ruchi, deputy director of the Iran division at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told U.S. officials that China continued to urge Iran to engage in negotiations and that Iran was keeping the door open for talks.
Ni also said the Iranian nuclear program had suffered setbacks and that, coupled with turmoil after Iran's 2009 election, might make the regime more open to talks.
In an October 2009 meeting, Ni told U.S. officials that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao reportedly urged Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi to engage in direct talks with the United States, and China would support the action.
Ni reportedly said that Iran appeared "willing to make a deal with the U.S. on the nuclear issue, adding that this willingness came from the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], and that President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad was not the decision-maker on the issue."
Ni also stressed that Iran's nuclear program was not as advanced "as some would believe," and that there were serious impediments to development of nuclear technology, particularly weaponization. Less than half of the 5,000 centrifuges in Iran were operational, Ni said.
Ni told U.S. officials that he thought a combination of incentives and relaxing of sanctions could signal sincere intentions to Tehran.
In a December 2009 meeting, Undersecretary of State William Burns emphasized to Wang Jiarui, an official with the Chinese Communist Party, that China and the United States needed a unified effort. Wang said that "China agreed that Iranian nuclear weapons would bring great instability to the Middle East, including possible warfare, even on a global scale."
On North Korea, the Chinese and U.S. officials agreed that ultimately the goal of both countries should be preventing North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons.
In one report in September 2009, Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei downplayed an upcoming visit by Wen Jiabao to North Korea saying, "we may not like them [but] they … are a neighbor."
Ha said that Jiabao would stress the need to abandon nuclearization and continue diplomatic efforts.
In another meeting that month, Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo said he met with North Korean President Kim Jong Il for 2½ hours and, although he had lost weight, the North Korean leader seemed to have a sharp mind and be in reasonably good health.
Dai said China supported any attempt by the United States to re-open bilateral negotiations with North Korea.