Sarkozy ends Beijing visit at Forbidden City

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and toured the Forbidden City with his wife Friday to wrap up the Beijing leg of a state visit focused on putting past tensions to rest.

Sarkozy, who arrived in China on Wednesday, then headed to Shanghai to attend the opening ceremony for the World Expo.

Authorities closed off the Forbidden City, the ancient imperial palace in the heart of the capital across from Tiananmen Square, for the visit by the French leader and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

Sarkozy, sporting a dark suit and tie, and his wife, in a grey trouser suit and dark round glasses, strolled around the sprawling grounds for about 45 minutes, accompanied by security personnel.

France's first couple has included several sightseeing stops on the trip, including a visit to the ancient capital Xian to see the 2,200-year-old terracotta warriors, a tour of the Great Wall and a visit to the Ming Tombs.

Sarkozy's visit was aimed at breathing new life into Sino-French relations, which hit a low point in 2008 when the French president expressed shock at a Chinese security crackdown in Tibet in March and later met the Dalai Lama.

He called China a "strategic partner" and said he would work with Chinese President Hu Jintao on a variety of issues, from the Iranian nuclear standoff to global monetary reform.

On Iran, Sarkozy told the Chinese leader that while dialogue was still an option with Tehran, sanctions had to be considered as a last resort if the Islamic republic refused to cooperate with the international community.

"China hopes to use dialogue to solve this problem. France completely understands China, and we are willing to discuss this problem together at an appropriate time," Chinese state media quoted Sarkozy as saying.

"But if dialogue does not work, then we can only use sanctions," he added at a joint media appearance with Hu on Wednesday.

China -- one of the five permanent members of the 15-member UN Security Council -- has so far been reluctant to embrace tough new punitive action.

Sarkozy seemed eager to mend fences, steering clear of several sensitive issues in his public appearances.

He refrained from adding to pressure on China to allow the yuan to appreciate, saying it was "totally unproductive to make accusations against one another" and better to focus on an overhaul of the global monetary system.

The French leader also did not speak publicly on human rights concerns, such as the treatment of political dissidents or religious freedom.

He was set to return to France later Friday after the Expo opening gala in Shanghai.

© 2010 AFP

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