The Irish government resisted intense diplomatic pressure from the US to clarify its ambiguous stance on selling arms to the Chinese, leaked diplomatic cables reveal.
A series of secret documents from the WikiLeaks Ireland cache show the US State Department in Washington was extremely concerned at reports the EU was planning to lift its arms embargo against China.
In Dublin, the US Embassy made repeated attempts to pressure the Irish government to state its position on the arms ban, but to no avail.
In a dispatch to former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former ambassador to Ireland James Kenny told how the Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs officials adopted a "cagey" stance when confronted about the issue.
In the 'confidential' cable, dated January 2005, he wrote: "They have consistently avoided our direct questions on whether Ireland opposed lifting the ban in the current circumstances." The US put considerable diplomatic pressure on a number of EU states to resist any moves to lift the embargo to its superpower rival.
The ban was enforced 21 years ago in the wake of Beijing's crackdown against pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square.
All member states would have to agree to lift the embargo before the EU could start selling arms to the Chinese again.
Therefore, getting Ireland to support the US position and publicly block the ban would have been a major coup for diplomatic staff here. However, the leaked cables reveal the Government gave an evasive response to US questions on the issue, much to the frustration of embassy officials.
They were particularly concerned with remarks made by then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern during a major trade mission to China in January 2005 in which he appeared to support the lifting of the embargo.
Mr Ahern was reported as saying such a move was "inevitable" and that he was aware of China's desire to end the ban as a matter of "respect and equal treatment". At a meeting in Dublin, an embassy representative asked a senior Department of Foreign Affairs official to clarify if Mr Ahern had used the word "inevitable".
But the ambassador noted the official "repeatedly deflected the question".
According to the cable, the official claimed Mr Ahern had adopted a tougher stance with the Chinese in behind-closed-doors talks during the visit.
And the official insisted media reports "had not reflected the balance" in Mr Ahern's comments.