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British foreign secretary in China for talks on security, foreign policy, climate change

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BEIJING — British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Wednesday that an international agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program could give impetus to efforts aimed at curbing North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Hammond, who is in Beijing for talks on security cooperation and climate change, made the comments during a speech to students at elite Peking University. He is to meet with Chinese senior foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi on Thursday and visit an Airbus assembly plant in Tianjin.

Calling the Iran agreement reached in Vienna a "major success for multilateral diplomacy," Hammond said there "may be lessons to be drawn around the world including on tackling nuclear proliferation" in North Korea.

While offering no specifics, Hammond said Britain strongly supports the long-stalled six-nation negotiating process on North Korea hosted by China. Britain shares an interest "in ensuring that this particular multilateral initiative succeeds in bringing to an end North Korea's nuclear weapons program. China, of course, has a particularly influential role to play," he said.

Britain has strongly endorsed the agreement among Iran, the United States and other world powers to limit Iran's nuclear program in exchange for an end to economic sanctions, despite heavy opposition from Israel and some in the U.S. Congress who say the restrictions don't go far enough. China has friendly relations with Iran and has pushed for a deal that would end sanctions.

PHOTO: British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond delivers his speech at Peking University in Beijing Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. Hammond said Wednesday that an international agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program could give impetus to efforts aimed at curbing North Korea's nuclear weapons program. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond delivers his speech at Peking University in Beijing Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. Hammond said Wednesday that an international agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program could give impetus to efforts aimed at curbing North Korea's nuclear weapons program. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Referring to London's signing on as a charter member of the Chinese-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank — despite U.S. opposition — Hammond called Britain China's best partner in Europe. He said there was ample room to explore other areas of cooperation, including in African development, counterterrorism and attacking climate change.

Hammond's Thursday talks are expected to touch on a potential accord at Paris climate change talks in November. Top carbon polluter China has been praised by some for setting a target of capping its emissions before 2030.

However, he also referred to areas where the two nations "don't see eye to eye," singling out the issue of human rights where Britain has been among western nations critical of the ruling Communist Party's repressive tendencies.

China for its part has harshly criticized Britain over a 2012 meeting between Prime Minister David Cameron and exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, as well as Britain's questioning of Chinese policy in Hong Kong, a former British colony.

Hammond also touched on the sensitive issue of China's claim to virtually the entire South China Sea and its island groups, amid heightened tensions between China and its neighbors in the strategically crucial region through which more than $5 trillion in trade passes each year.

"We want to see claims dealt with by rules-based, not power-based solutions in Asia as elsewhere, in a way which is consistent with the long-term peace and stability of the region, with freedom of navigation and overflight and in accordance with international law, including the law of the sea," he said.

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