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Powell: China Anxious to Play Helpful Role in Resolving N. Korea Crisis - 2003-02-24


Secretary of State Colin Powell presented Washington's point of view on the world's two major crises, North Korea and Iraq, in conversations with China's leaders on Monday. Mr. Powell gave no indication that Beijing had changed its views significantly on either question.

Secretary of State Colin Powell came to Beijing hoping to persuade the Chinese to take a more active role in resolving the North Korean crisis. Washington wants Beijing to push the North Koreans harder to give up their alleged nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Powell held talks with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Communist Party Chairman Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan. He said China is well aware of Washington's views, but insists on playing a behind-the-scenes role. "[The Chinese] are anxious to play as helpful a role as they can," he said. "They prefer to play their role quietly."

Washington argues that China should be able to exert influence on the North, because of the long friendship between the two communist nations, and because Beijing provides its impoverished neighbor with critically-needed food, fuel and other economic aid.

Chinese analysts say Beijing is reluctant to put too much economic pressure on Pyongyang, fearing it could cause chaos in North Korea and prompt a flood of refugees into China.

The crisis over North Korea's nuclear program broke out last year when Washington said Pyongyang admitted to having a secret nuclear weapons program, in violation of several international agreements.

Washington demanded that Pyongyang dismantle the program. Pyongyang replied with talk of war, and pulled out of the global Non-Proliferation Treaty.

According to the official Xinhua News Agency, Foreign Minister Tang took the standard Chinese line on Iraq, urging all parties to do everything possible to avoid war and to seek a political solution through the United Nations. Beijing says U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq should be given more time to finish their work.

Mr. Powell, repeating the point he has made strenuously since his four-day Asian tour began, says the time has come to force Baghdad to give up its suspected weapons of mass destruction. There is still time to avoid a war, but we must not be afraid of a conflict if a conflict is what it takes to remove weapons of mass destruction from Iraq, he said.

However, he told reporters it was too soon for him to urge China to go along with a new U.N. resolution authorizing military action against Iraq, because a draft resolution has not yet been formally submitted to the Security Council.

China voted in favor of the Security Council resolution that led to the current inspection program. Washington hopes that if Beijing does not support a new resolution, it at least will not veto it.

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