BEIJING Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got a verbal assurance Tuesday from China to use its influence to help jump-start the stalled process of dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs. Yet it was unclear when or how the Chinese would follow through.
In broad discussions with Chinese officials, Rice also won an agreement from China to resume an on-again, off-again human rights dialogue with the United States and she pleased her Chinese hosts by restating firm U.S. opposition to a Taiwanese referendum on United Nations entry that has infuriated Beijing.
But North Korea dominated the talks and Rice urged China, which has considerable leverage with its Stalinist neighbor, along with others in the six-nation denuclearization effort, to "use all influence possible" with Pyongyang to meet its pledges to the group.
"I believe that all of the parties to the six-party talks have both an obligation and an interest to make certain that the obligations of the first phase are carried out," Rice told reporters at a news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
"We are the cusp of something very special here," she said, referring to the shutdown and continuing disablement of North Korea's main nuclear facility in Yongbyon. "Now it is time to move on because the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is in everyone's interest."
"What I am expecting from China is what I am expecting from others: Use all influence possible with the North Koreans to convince them that it is time to move forward," Rice said.
Yang said China was "consistently committed to the six-party talks and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula" and would continue to work on the matter. But he also made clear that Beijing had already pressed the North hard on the matter.
"The Chinese side hopes that the parties will treasure the results we have already produced, which have not come easily," he said.
Speaking later after extensive discussions with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Rice said she was pleased with the Chinese stance. "I think China shares our desire to get this moving forward at a more rapid pace and I know they are using their good offices to try to do so," she said.
Although progress has been made in disabling Yongbyon, the United States says North Korea has not yet produced a full declaration of its nuclear programs, including details on the transfer of technology and know-how that could be used to develop atomic weapons.
The declaration was due almost two months ago, and the North says it has already met the requirement but the Bush administration rejects the claim, which has slowed progress on the process aimed at restoring stability in North Asia and bringing a final end to the Korean War.
Yang said China was eager to see the second phase of the denuclearization process the complete dismantlement of Yongbyon, the production of the declaration and in return the provision of fuel oil to North Korea completed quickly.
Rice is in China on the second leg of a three-nation tour of Asia that has already taken her to South Korea and ends in Japan on Thursday.
The trip coincided with an historic performance in North Korea by the New York Philharmonic Tuesday in an unprecedented cultural exchange that some have dubbed "violin diplomacy."
The concert was broadcast internationally but Rice, a classically trained pianist, did not see it. While she said "cultural exchanges are good thing" and that she would like to see North Koreans come to the United States, she played down the significance of the show.
"It's a long way from playing that concert to changing the nature of the politics of North Korea," she said.
In Beijing, Rice said she had also raised human rights issues, along with intellectual property protections, product safety, efforts to impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program and the upcoming referendum in Taiwan an island Beijing sees as a breakaway province.
Yang said China had agreed to resume the human rights dialogue with the United States that it had broken off in 2004 when the Bush administration unsuccessfully sponsored a resolution censuring China before the U.N. Human Rights Commission. He did not, however, give a date.
China bristles at criticism of its human rights record, which it regards as meddling in its internal affairs, and groups have accused the administration of playing down its lapses to win Beijing's help in dealing with North Korea, Iran and the war on terrorism.
Rice said she approached the matter with "respect" for the Chinese but stressed that civil liberties and religious freedoms are "very near and dear to American values."
On human rights, Rice said she had discussed three specific cases: the recent arrest of Hu Jia, among China's most prominent political dissidents, the continued jailing of Jude Shao, a China-born American businessman who is serving a 15-year tax evasion sentence, and Shi Tao, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for sending information about a government crackdown to an overseas Web site.
On Iran, Rice said the United States was seeking Chinese support for new U.N. Security Council sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear programs. China and Russia, veto-wielding permanent members of the council, have been resisting the effort.