msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/5/2005 4:41:52 PM ET 2005-05-05T20:41:52

President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao expressed concern about North Korea Thursday and vowed support for six-party negotiations aimed at stopping North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the White House said.

Speaking by telephone, the leaders discussed the importance of the six-party talks and “reiterated their commitment to working together toward a nuclear-free peninsula while expressing concern about North Korea,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

If Pyongyang refuses to come back to the table, the United States would consider taking the matter to the U.N. Security Council, where North Korea could face sanctions. “We will consult with our allies about what those next steps would be,” a senior administration official said.

Leaning on Hu to lean on North Korea
Bush wants Hu to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea, but it was unclear whether Hu agreed to do so.

There have been three inconclusive rounds of six-way talks, which include China, the United States, Japan, South Korea, Russia and North Korea.

But North Korea has refused to meet for a fourth round, saying Washington must first drop what it called a hostile policy.

“We hope North Korea will change their mind and come back to the talks,” McClellan said. “They have shown an unwillingness to come back to the talks,” he said.

McClellan rebuffed calls for Washington to open bilateral talks with Pyongyang. “There’s plenty of opportunity, through the six-party process, for the two countries to speak to each other, if they need to,” he said.

A Japanese newspaper, the right-leaning Sankei Shimbun, said Thursday that Japan and the United States may start preparations in late May to refer North Korea to the U.N.  Security Council over its nuclear weapons ambitions.

Tensions over trade, Taiwan
McClellan also said Hu briefed Bush on recent visits to China by opposition leaders from Taiwan.

“The president urged President Hu to continue working on ways to reach out to President Chen as the duly elected leader of Taiwan,” McClellan said.

He said dialogue is important and “we believe ultimately there needs to be continued dialogue with the duly elected leader in Taiwan and that means President Chen and his cabinet and that is the best way to continue to promote peace and stability in the cross-strait region.”

On trade, Bush and Hu “agreed on the importance of progress on bilateral trade and economic issues,” McClellan said.

He would not say whether Bush raised ongoing U.S. concerns that China should allow greater flexibility in its currency system, a point Treasury Secretary John Snow made Monday.

McClellan said Treasury officials have been in ongoing contact with Chinese officials about this issue.

Washington is under pressure from U.S. manufacturers who claim China’s pegged currency gives its goods an unfair price advantage.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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