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US Proposes Nuclear Dialogue with China

The United States has proposed starting a dialogue with China on nuclear weapons and strategy. VOA's Al Pessin reports the proposal came during an annual meeting between senior U.S. and Chinese defense officials at the Pentagon, which included military officers responsible for each country's nuclear weapons.

Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the United States wants the dialogue to cover defense nuclear programs, policies and strategy.

"It's an important topic, and I think in the overall context of our military defense relationship it's something that would be in the interests not only of the United States but also the Chinese," said Whitman. "And so that's why we brought it up."

Whitman would not be more specific about what the United States wants to achieve in such a dialogue, and he would not say whether China agreed to the proposal.

The day-long talks on Monday included officers from China's 2nd Artillery Corps and the U.S. Strategic Command, the units responsible for each country's nuclear arsenals. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the 2nd Artillery when he was in China last month, and made the first mention of a possible nuclear dialogue.

Whitman says the U.S. delegation also raised concerns about Iran's nuclear program, and other regional and global issues. The talks were held the same day a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate was made public saying Iran appears to have ended its nuclear weapons program four years ago.

The spokesman says the United States wants "greater substance" in its defense exchanges with China, including more contacts among junior and mid-grade military officers, more interaction among military institutes and more formal cooperation in the search for American service members missing from wars in Asia.

Whitman reports the U.S. delegation also "reinforced" Secretary Gates' effort to get China to agree to steps designed to improve communications and understanding, and proposed establishing a long-discussed defense 'Hot Line' by February. He would not say whether China agreed to any of those ideas.

Whitman indicated the United States wants to move forward with the proposals in spite of the controversy over China's recent refusal to allow several U.S. Navy ships to visit Hong Kong.

"With respect to the port call in Hong Kong that was denied, the subject came up in the context of our overall discussion of the importance of improving our military-to-military relations," said Whitman. "And we look forward to working with the Chinese to this end."

Whitman says the two sides agreed to hold the next regularly scheduled senior-level U.S.-China defense talks in February.

Monday's talks involved delegations led by the Pentagon's number three official, Eric Edelman, the deputy secretary for policy, and Chinese Lieutenant General Ma Xaiotian, the deputy chief of the general staff for foreign affairs.