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Chinese Premier Rongji Disavows Allegations of Weapons Espionage

By John Pomfret

The Washington Post -- BEIJING

Premier Zhu Rongji Monday denied allegations that China pilfered U.S. nuclear weapons secrets, calling the notion a “tale from ’The Arabian Nights,’ ” and said he expects his U.S. visit next month to be difficult because of tensions between Washington and Beijing over that issue and others.

Speaking with reporters at the conclusion of the annual meeting of China’s parliament, the 71-year-old Soviet-trained engineer said he felt “an uneasy heart” at the prospect of facing American accusations that China obtained information from sources in the United States in the late 1980s that allowed it to create a generation of smaller nuclear weapons.

“Of course it will not be an easy task to visit the United States,” Zhu said. “The media has predicted my forthcoming visit will not be successful, but I will go anyway. ... I must go there to let you vent your spleen.”

Overall, however, Zhu said his goal in making the trip, scheduled to begin April 8, is to “resume the good momentum” in U.S.-China relations. He said that, in general, he expects a warm reception from the Clinton administration. In Washington, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said the espionage allegations were certain to come up during Zhu’s visit “as part of the broad relationship we have with China.”

Zhu echoed a line common in China today -- that the problems between Washington and Beijing are caused by an “internal struggle” in the United States and that a small group of Americans are plotting to ruin U.S.-China ties. But on her visit to Beijing earlier this month to prepare the way for Zhu’s trip, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright told Zhu, President Jiang Zemin and other senior officials just the opposite -- that American criticism of China on issues ranging from alleged espionage to human rights abuses reflects a bipartisan political consensus.