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United States, China Discuss Nonproliferation Agreement

By Henry Chu
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- BEIJING

Chinese and U.S. arms experts opened talks Thursday on Beijing’s agreement not to spread missile and nuclear weapons technology to other nations, the latest in a series of recent high-level contacts.

A U.S. delegation led by acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Vann Van Diepen is seeking to ensure that China abides by a promise made in November not to help other countries develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

The United States is worried about reports that Chinese companies have continued to export sensitive missile technology to Pakistan in violation of the pledge. The Chinese government insists it has stuck to its promise.

The talks come less than a month after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell visited here and sought a renewed Chinese commitment to the agreement.

Two weeks ago, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), visited here and also pressed China on the issue. Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, later called on the Bush administration to impose sanctions on the Chinese companies accused of aiding Pakistan.

Discussions are expected to continue Friday. The U.S. team and China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the start of the talks Thursday but declined to comment on their substance.

Before the session, State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker said the meetings would not focus on alleged missile assistance to Pakistan.

“These talks aren’t surrounding any specific allegation,” Reeker told reporters in Washington on Wednesday. “These are on the subject of missile nonproliferation, including the implementation of the November 2000 agreement.”

In addition to allegedly helping advance Pakistan’s weapons development, some Chinese companies are suspected of selling fiber-optic technology to Iraq that could enhance that nation’s air defenses.

The United States and China are eager to find ways to stabilize bilateral relations, which have swung wildly during the past three years. Military ties in particular have been on shaky ground since the 1999 bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia -- which the United States labeled an accident -- during NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia. They hit another low in April after a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet off southern China.

President Bush is scheduled to visit Shanghai in two months for a regional economic summit, then travel to Beijing for a state visit -- the first by a U.S. leader since President Clinton in 1998.

Powell’s trip last month served partly to pave the way for Bush’s arrival. In recent weeks, both sides have talked up the importance of improving Sino-U.S. relations.