President Bush sought China's help to stop nuclear weapons programs in North Korea and Iran and won a pledge from President Hu Jintao on Tuesday to step up pressure on Pyongyang for progress in six-nation negotiations.
The two leaders met here on the eve of a resumption of talks in Beijing aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.
Bush said his discussions with Hu ranged from how to prevent an avian flu pandemic to economic matters and feared nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran. He seemed pleased when Hu said, "We stand ready to step up our communication and cooperation" to gain fresh progress in negotiations with North Korea.
Without elaboration, Bush said he planned to raise human rights abuses in China with Hu. For his part, Hu bluntly asked Bush to "join the Chinese side in safeguarding peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait" and said "it is inevitable that we may have some frictions" over trade as Beijing has a massive surplus.
Bush met with Hu at the end of a busy day of diplomacy stretching from the White House to the United Nations. The president, at a news conference in Washington, issued a stern warning to Syria about alleged involvement in Iraq and vowed the United States will not waver from its commitment in Iraq.
A break from domestic issues for Bush
Consumed by Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts for two weeks, Bush pivoted to foreign policy for a meeting of more than 160 presidents, prime ministers and kings at a summit on combating poverty and reforming the United Nations. Bush is to address the General Assembly on Wednesday.
Bush has had a testy relationship with the United Nations, portraying it as a bloated bureaucracy slow to address global problems. Criticism of the United States is common, particularly over the war in Iraq and Bush's refusal to sign the Kyoto treaty on global warming. Bush arrived here with the lowest approval ratings of his presidency and the perception that his administration had mishandled hurricane relief. He said he took responsibility for whatever had gone wrong.
Bush met privately in a hotel suite with Hu, making his first visit to the United States as his country's leader. The White House is concerned about China's growing economic and military might and its voracious thirst for oil — a factor in rising U.S. gasoline prices.
The Bush administration is seeking the support of China, Russia and India to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions for its suspected nuclear weapons program. Iran suspended uranium conversion and enrichment activities last year but resumed them last month. Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, warned of serious consequences if the Security Council considers sanctions.
Debate over Iran’s nuclear program
Bush raised eyebrows at his news conference by appearing to give Tehran a green light for a peaceful nuclear program. "Some of us are wondering why they need civilian nuclear power anyway. They're awash with hydrocarbons," the president said.
"Nevertheless, it's a right of a government to want to have a civilian nuclear program." But he went on to say there must be guidelines and "one such guideline would be in such a way that they don't gain the expertise necessary to be able to enrich."
China has a massive surplus in trade with the United States.
Last year's U.S.-China deficit hit a record $162 billion, the largest imbalance ever recorded with a single country.
Hu promised to "work hard" to address the trade imbalance and said China will protect the intellectual property rights of American companies — a major concern of U.S. firms.
"What I would like to stress here is that China does not pursue a huge trade surplus in trade with the United States," Hu said.
Still no withdrawal date from Iraq
Bush began the day at the White House, meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Once again, the two leaders refused to set a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
"Today, American and international presence in Iraq is vital," Talibani said.
"We will set no timetable for withdrawal, Mr. President," Talibani added. He said he hoped that by the end of 2006, Iraqi forces "are up to the level of taking responsibility from many American troops with complete agreement with Americans."
Bush pledged the United States would not retreat prematurely.
Bush told Talibani, "Today, Mr. President, I pledge that we will not waver."
The president also issued a warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom he accused of failing to control the flow of fighters sneaking into Iraq. The United States also has suggested that Syria played a role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafil Hariri last February in Beirut. The U.N. is investigating the assassination.
"The Syrian leader must understand we take his lack of action seriously," Bush said.