Tue, Mar 22, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Rice discusses N Korea, arms sales and democracy

AGENCIES , BEIJING

In wide-ranging discussions with leaders in Beijing, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice touched on a number of sensitive issues yesterday, including EU arms sales, North Korea, democracy and religious freedom.

Rice said parties to six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program would have to find new ways of handling the threat if Pyongyang stayed away from the negotiations.

"Obviously everyone is aware of the other options in the international sytem," Rice told a news conference in Beijing at the end of a trip to Asia.

"Of course if we cannot find a way to resolve the North Korean issue in this way [through six-party talks], then we will have to find other means to do it," she said.

Rice's stated goal of her trip was to find a common strategy to revive the negotiations, which also include South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

Rice also warned yesterday that EU plans to lift an embargo on arms sales to China might alter the military balance in Asia, where the US stations around 150,000 military personnel.

Washington has long opposed the plan to lift the arms ban.

"From the US point of view ... it would not be the right signal. It might serve to alter the balance in a place the United States in particular has security interests," Rice said in Beijing on the last stop of a six-nation tour of Asia.

Rice's remarks intensified a campaign she has been pressing in Asia to stop the EU going ahead with its plan. Luxembourg, which hold the EU's rotating presidency, has pledged to reach agreement on arms sales by the end of June.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Sunday lifting the ban had become more difficult since China passed the "Anti-Secession" Law.

Rice said it was the wrong time for the EU to end its ban, because the law had raised tensions between China and Taiwan.

Rice also urged China to embrace religious freedom and think about political reforms to match its economic opening.

Rice raised the sensitive issues of human rights and democracy with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星), after attending a church service on Sunday.

"We ... talked a good deal about the need for China to think about a more open political system that will match its economic opening and allow for the full creativity of the Chinese people," Rice told a news conference.

Days before her visit, China freed one of its highest-profile political prisoners and Washington opted not to seek a UN rebuke of Beijing's rights record, in what appeared to be reciprocal concessions.

The US State Department cited "significant steps" in China for its decision, including Beijing's pledge to give prisoners convicted of political crimes the same rights to parole and sentence reduction as other inmates.

But rights groups say China still detains and tortures those who advocate for changes to the Chinese Communist Party's monopoly on power, curbs media freedoms and uses the war on terrorism as a pretext for cracking down on peaceful opponents.

Rice called the church service she attended "an extraordinary experience" and said China's leaders should not view religion as a threat.

"I do hope that there is an understanding that religious communities are not a threat to transitional societies. In fact they are very often ... a source for good, for stability and for compassion in societies that are undergoing rapid change," she said.

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