In a rare news conference, Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian on Wednesday defended China's growing arms sales abroad as responsible and said strict measures have been taken to keep Chinese missiles from Iran.

Wu also disclosed that Saudi Arabia, which recently bought intermediate-range missiles from China, promised they would not be used in a first strike nor transfered to any other country."Therefore the (sale) on the part of China is conducive to stability of the situation in the Middle East," Wu told reporters in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. The missiles have a range of more than 1,000 miles and are can carry nuclear warheads.

Deputy Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, who alternated with Wu in answering questions during the 90-minute session, said China does not want a war with Vietnam over the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea, where the two countries clashed last month.

But he accused Vietnam of massing ships in the area in an effort to provoke China and refused to say what China will do if Vietnam refuses to withdraw.

"We will by no means take the initiative to provoke armed conflict in that area," Qian said.

On other topics, Wu said his recent visit to the United States had dissipated "the bad atmosphere" that developed between the two powers last year. Qian also rejected South Korea's invitation to establish diplomatic ties.

China has stepped up its foreign weapons sales in recent years in an effort to earn hard currency and help finance its own weapons development program.