Rice begins six-nation Asia tour

Trip is complicated by N. Korean rhetoric, China-Taiwan tensions

March 16, 2005|By Michael Tackett | Michael Tackett,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

NEW DELHI - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began a six-country swing through Asia yesterday amid escalating rhetoric from North Korea about its nuclear program and mounting tensions between China and Taiwan.

Rice said she "refused to get into the psyche of the North Koreans" about their openly hostile words earlier in the day that they would proceed with a nuclear program, and she called on North Korea to end its "nuclear program verifiably and irreversibly."

Her trip is intended to advance the six-party talks among the U.S., North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia to arrest nuclear proliferation in the region. She said North Korea's "isolation from its neighbors" has only deepened in the past couple of years. China is considered North Korea's only ally among the group, and its role in advancing the talks is seen as crucial.

"I am here to discuss what we do to get the six-party talks moving forward," Rice told reporters on her plane.

Those talks have been stalled in part because of North Korea's insistence on bilateral negotiations with the United States.

But the recent law passed in China that would permit it to invade Taiwan if the island nation were to secede from China has complicated the picture further. Rice said the Bush administration opposes any arms sales to China from Europe. An embargo on such sales was imposed after the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

"This is not a time to end the arms embargo," she said.

Rice said she expected to discuss the tensions between China and Taiwan with leaders in Beijing.

"An anti-secession law is not helpful in reducing cross-Straits tension," she said. Nor, Rice said, was evidence of ramped up military spending by Beijing.

Rice said she also would raise the issues of human rights and religious freedom with the Chinese as part of the broader Bush administration imperative of spreading democracy in the world. She called China "perhaps the major factor in the changing face of Asia."

The secretary also said the U.S. has been able to "de-hyphenate" relations with India and Pakistan, two nations long at odds, meaning that some issues could be dealt with separately instead of within the contours of the India-Pakistan dynamic.

"Our ability to have good relations with India and good relations with Pakistan has helped both have good relationships with each other," she said. "It has helped both of them not to allow extremism to overtake them."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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