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Rice wins Chinese help on North Korea

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday she expects China to help prod North Korea into fully declaring its nuclear programs as part of efforts to breath life into a stalled disarmament process.
Image: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (R) hold talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao holds talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the Zhongnanhai Chinese leadership compound in Beijing on Tuesday.Ng Han Guan / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday she expects China to help prod North Korea into fully declaring its nuclear programs as part of efforts to breath life into a stalled disarmament process.

Kicking off a brief visit to Beijing, Rice also repeated her earlier criticisms of a referendum planned by China's rival Taiwan on joining the United Nations.

She said she also discussed with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi the need for a new U.N. resolution to pressure Iran into cooperating with nuclear inspectors. The sides, meanwhile, also recommitted themselves to renewed dialogue on religious and civil rights.

Washington still awaits a "complete and full declaration" from North Korea as promised last year, Rice told reporters.

'Time to move forward'
"I am expecting from China what I am expecting from others. That we will use all influence possible with the North Koreans to convince them that it is time to move forward," Rice said.

Yang said China, the host of six-nation talks on North Korea's denuclearization process, had been in "close talks" with the North, its longtime communist ally whose shattered economy it is helping prop up.

"China will continue to play an important role in moving this forward," Yang said.

Rice later paid a courtesy call on Chinese President Hu Jintao, who thanked her for emergency assistance sent by the U.S. military early this month amid freak snowstorms in central and eastern China.

The Foreign Ministry said Rice was also due to meet with Premier Wen Jiabao and State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, a senior adviser on foreign affairs. She was scheduled to leave Wednesday for Japan, the third stop on a regional tour to jump-start a year-old agreement under which North Korea pledged to dismantle its nuclear programs in return for aid and diplomatic benefits.

While Pyongyang maintains a large diplomatic mission in Beijing, Rice has ruled out talks with North Korean officials during her official stay in China, saying such a meeting was neither warranted nor could be of any use in the current circumstances.

North Korea has said it already has provided a list of its programs, but Washington has countered that Pyongyang has not given a complete accounting.

Although North Korea shut down its main nuclear reactor last year, American researchers who visited the complex earlier this month reported that officials there said they had slowed the removal of fuel rods. They said that was because the United States and other nations have fallen behind in supplying aid promised under the disarmament deal.

Still at loggerheads
While Washington has praised Beijing's constructive role over North Korea, the sides remain at loggerheads over Iran and other issues.

China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has said it would not support a new resolution on Iran, and Yang reiterated Beijing's aversion to Washington's confrontational approach.

"We believe we should continue to adopt a dual-track approach. At the end of the day, the results can only be achieved by peaceful negotiation," Yang said.

Yang also expressed appreciation for U.S. support over the Taiwanese referendum. China, which claims the self-governing island as its own territory, sees the referendum as a step toward formal independence, something it has threatened to block by force.

Washington, which is bound to help ensure Taiwan's security, views the poll as an unwelcome bid to alter the status quo between the sides. Rice said that would "not be constructive and would serve no useful purpose."

"Taiwan is a democratic entity that will have to make its own decision but we believe this referendum is not going to help anyone. In fact, it should not be held," Rice said.

Human rights dialogue
U.S. officials said Rice specifically discussed with Yang the recent arrest of Hu Jia, among China's most prominent political dissidents, and the continued jailing of Jude Shao, a China-born American businessman who is serving a 15-year sentence on tax evasion charges he and his supporters say were fabricated.

"We do this with respect but these are issues that are very near and dear to American values," Rice said.

China and the United States held on-again, off-again dialogue on human rights in the 1990s and into the first years of the Bush administration.

But the meetings were sidelined after 2002 when the Bush administration said China had failed to keep promises to allow in U.N. investigators. China in turn suspended the dialogue in 2004 when Bush officials decided to sponsor a resolution censuring China before the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The motion failed.

Rights groups have criticized the Bush administration for playing down China's civil liberties lapses to win Beijing's help in dealing with North Korea, Iran and the war on terrorism in general.

On a recent trip to Washington, Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, said administration officials told him that Washington preferred to quietly urge Beijing to improve human rights and its image for the Summer Olympics.

"The U.S. is unprepared to press China on human rights," Bequelin said.