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Powell Seeks China's Help on North Korea Nuclear Issue - 2003-02-23

Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Beijing, hoping to persuade Chinese officials to push North Korea harder to give up its nuclear ambitions. Mr. Powell is also seeking Chinese support on the Iraq vote in the U.N. Security Council which is expected to meet in the next few weeks on the second resolution to disarm Iraq.

The American Secretary of State is set to meet on Monday with China's Minister of Foreign Affairs Tang Jiaxuan, President Jiang Zemin and Vice President Hu Jintao, who is expected to take over the presidency next month. Mr. Powell is the latest and most important in a parade of senior American diplomats, who have been trying to persuade Beijing to put more pressure on North Korea to give up its alleged nuclear weapons program.

U.S. officials say China should have influence over its impoverished neighbor, because of the long alliance between the two communist neighbors, and because it supplies critically-needed imports of food and fuel to Pyongyang.

But Chinese foreign affairs experts, including Pan Shaozhong, who taught at the Beijing-based Foreign Affairs College, warn not to expect too much, saying Mr. Powell "is probably going to ask the Chinese to do what they really cannot give, so in a way, he probably will be somewhat disappointed."

Professor Pan says Beijing is constrained by concerns that economic or other pressures from China would drive Pyongyang "to desperation," with unpredictable results. Experts say instability in North Korea could send a flood of starving refugees across the border into an area of China already troubled by unemployment and poverty.

Pyongyang is demanding face-to-face talks with Washington, while Washington says North Korea's neighbors should also be involved the dialogue. Beijing agrees there are regional concerns, but has so far refused to become deeply involved.

The crisis erupted in October, when Washington said Pyongyang admitted it was working on a secret nuclear weapons program, in violation of several international agreements.

While analysts say Mr. Powell may be disappointed by Beijing's response on North Korea, some suggest he may win at least tacit Chinese backing on the Iraq issue.

Earlier Sunday in Tokyo, Mr. Powell said Iraq is in breach of United Nation's demands that it get rid of its weapons of mass destruction, and the time has come to force it to disarm. He confirmed that Washington will soon propose a new U-N resolution condemning Iraq, which could be a step towards a U-S-led invasion of the country.

China, like France and Russia, says United Nations weapons inspections in Iraq should be given more time, and all three countries could veto any U.N. resolution. Analysts say China probably will not support the resolution Washington is seeking, but is not likely to damage its key trade and political relationship with Washington by exercising its veto.

China is the second stop on Mr. Powell's three-nation Asian tour that will also take him to Seoul for Tuesday's inauguration of South Korea's President-elect, Roh Moo-hyun.