China is pivotal to strengthening UN efforts to bring about reform in Myanmar and must push the military junta to talk with the democratic opposition, France’s foreign minister told AFP.

In an interview before leaving here for China, where he was to meet Premier Wen Jiabao, Bernard Kouchner urged Beijing to use its influence to create real dialogue between the regime and detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

He said the international community must support UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who has been tasked with dealing with Myanmar, to ensure there is a sustained contact with the reclusive regime.

“A national dialogue must be established,” Kouchner insisted, adding it was “illusory” to imagine there could be an immediate regime change.

Kouchner, sitting in the teak panelled offices of the French ambassador in downtown Bangkok, said he would push China to press for more talks after Aung San Suu Kyi met briefly last week with a junta official.

At first tense, Kouchner — co-founder of medical aid group Medicins Sans Frontieres and a former UN administrator of Kosovo — relaxed in the interview as he talked about what he would be doing in Beijing, the last leg of a short Asian tour to rally support for UN efforts to bring reform.

China, a major supplier of weapons to Myanmar, has been criticised for not taking tougher action after the generals’ bloody crackdown on September’s mass protests, the biggest challenge to the regime in 20 years.

At least 13 people were killed and thousands were detained, including many Buddhist monks who led the protests.

Beijing backed a UN Security Council statement that “strongly deplored” the junta’s use of force, although it successfully pushed for a tougher version of the text to be watered down.

It was largely due to China’s influence that Gambari was able to travel to Myanmar at the end of last month to meet with the generals, Kouchner said.

The UN mission “is already a small miracle, which must continue,” he said.

“We have to give some sense of permanence to this mission. I say this with caution, and it will be possible only with the support of the ASEAN countries and also, of course, China and India.”

Genuine talks, he added, are “within our reach. A national dialogue must be imposed and our ASEAN friends… are going to propose that to Myanmar’s envoy. We must support them in their determination.”

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional grouping which includes Myanmar, meet November 20 for a summit in Singapore.

ASEAN is under pressure to take a harder line against its most troublesome member and has said it supports Gambari’s efforts.

China has pledged to assist Gambari in his mediation, but must now help “to expand and give him some new possibilities,” Kouchner said.

The French minister said that if Gambari visited Myanmar in early November as planned, “we already have a concrete result. But it is necessary that this mission continue.”

The UN envoy will be followed into Myanmar by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN special rapporteur on human rights.