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Rice asks Chinese leaders to press North Korea on nuclear talks

BEIJING—Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday asked Chinese President Hu Jintao to intensify diplomatic efforts to get North Korea back to talks on giving up its nuclear weapons program.

Rice met with Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, and then drove a few minutes away to government-controlled Protestant church to attend a Palm Sunday service.

China is the largest source of food and energy to North Korea, and Rice had been saying throughout her trip to six Asian countries last week that she would be urging China to do all it can to persuade its communist ally to return to negotiations. She declined to say what she hopes China will do, noting that was up to China's leaders.

The United States and the others in the six-party talks with North Korea have started to talk about other steps to take if Pyongyang continues to refuse to return to negotiations, said a senior State Department official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity about what went on in the closed-door talks between Rice and the Chinese leaders. Most of the meeting with the Chinese president was about North Korea, the senior official said.

Besides China and the United States, the other partners in the six-party talks with North Korea are Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Rice said earlier Sunday that she and Ban Ki-Moon, the South Korean foreign minister, talked about "intensifying our efforts, all of us, including hopefully the Chinese, because we do need to address the problem."

U.S. officials have gotten the sense in their meetings so far on the trip that other partners in the talks understand that North Korea can't be allowed to stall indefinitely, the official said, adding that there was not yet a "Plan B."

In her news conferences in Tokyo and Seoul, Rice summed up the enticements the partners are using to get North Korea back to the table: assurances the United States has no intention to attack, and a promise of a multi-nation security assurance and an examination of how to meet North Korea's energy needs.

"So I would hope that all of this taken together would suggest to North Korea that the six-party talks are the place that they can actually get the respect that they have desired and that they can get the assistance that they need. It is true that we need to resolve this issue. It cannot go on forever," Rice said.

Rice's plans to go to church did not come up in her talks with the leaders, but they were aware of her intentions, the State Department official told reporters.

The church, Gangwashi, is one of the few large state-sanctioned churches in central Beijing. Government approved Protestant churches in China are non-denominational. Gangwashi seats about 600 people, and it was full, as it often is for services.

Rice is a faithful churchgoer, and it was no surprise she wanted to attend a Palm Sunday service on the first day of Holy Week as Easter approaches. But she chose the symbolism of attending a regularly scheduled evening service in Beijing instead of a morning one in Seoul.

Chinese people can attend church services without fear of reprisal as long as they are part of the state-controlled religious system. The "underground" Roman Catholic and Protestant churches outside this system are illegal, and some of their leaders and members have been imprisoned under communist rule.

Other high-ranking Americans, including former Secretary of State James Baker, have attended a different state-sanctioned church in Beijing in 1991.

Small groups of Chinese gathered on the sidewalks outside the church, which is set back in a walled yard. Several of them said they had no idea an American dignitary was gong to visit and were disappointed when they were turned away from the service because it was full.

Throughout her trip, which began in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, Rice has said that democracy, including freedom of religion and freedom of speech, eliminates the hatred that causes terrorism.

Earlier Sunday in Seoul, Rice sharply reminded Europe that if it goes ahead with a plan to lift its arms embargo on China, its technology might one day be used against the U.S. military in the Pacific.

Rice said the United States was concerned that China's military is becoming stronger and more sophisticated and warned the European Union "should do nothing to contribute to a circumstance in which Chinese military modernization draws on European technology . . . when in fact it is the United States, not Europe, that has defended the Pacific."

The European Union imposed the embargo in 1989 after the Chinese military cracked down on democracy protesters, killing hundreds and possibly thousands of people. No official reckoning of the death toll was ever made.

Rice said earlier that she hoped the recent rise in tension over Taiwan would make Europeans reconsider lifting the embargo. China earlier this month passed a law that spells out its long-stated resolution to use force if necessary should democratically ruled Taiwan seek formal independence.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Hu Jintao, Condoleezza Rice

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