BEIJING (AP) _ China urged Iraq today to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors to speed the lifting of trade sanctions against the Arab country, state-run media reported.

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told visiting Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz that China was opposed to sanctions, but Baghdad needed to respect U.N. Security Council resolutions, the Xinhua News Agency said.

Attempting to end a year-old standoff with Iraq, a divided Security Council last month demanded Baghdad resume working with weapons inspectors before the United Nations would suspend sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

In an apparent effort to coax Baghdad, Tang told Aziz that the council should ``be fair and objective'' in assessing Iraq's cooperation and ``gradually ease and eventually lift the sanctions,'' Xinhua reported.

China and Iraq have drawn closer in recent years for strategic and commercial reasons. Baghdad is keen to find friends and emerge from the isolation brought on by the Persian Gulf War, while Beijing wants to expand its influence in the region and secure access to Iraqi oil.

China has often championed Iraqi interests in the Security Council, seeking an early end to the sanctions.

But Beijing abstained rather than veto December's resolution, pushed by the United States and Britain, which, along with China, Russia and France, are veto-wielding council members.

Before his meeting with Tang, Aziz said Iraq appreciated Beijing's support.

``China has always taken a principled position vis-a-vis the question and Iraq and many international affairs. And we are satisfied,'' Aziz said.

On Saturday, Aziz leaves Beijing for the economically booming southeastern city of Shenzhen before traveling on to Sanya, a resort city on tropical Hainan island. He then travels to Malaysia.