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Bush to Ask China to Pressure North Korea on Nuclear Arms

By Mark Matthews
THE BALTIMORE SUN -- WASHINGTON

After 18 months in which the United States and China veered from mutual distrust to cooperation, President Bush will put the warming relations to a strategic test Friday, when he will ask China to apply pressure on North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons development.

Playing host at his Texas ranch to the soon-to-retire President Jiang Zemin of China, Bush is expected to offer a sweetener in return: a resumption of high-level defense talks that were suspended after China detained the crew of a U.S. spy plane that collided with a Chinese fighter jet in April 2001.

U.S. officials view China as vital to bringing a peaceful end to the latest crisis with North Korea, which stunned the world this month by acknowledging that it was trying to produce highly enriched uranium, a fuel for nuclear weapons, in violation of agreements barring nuclear weapons development.

Bush hopes for a diplomatic solution to the crisis with North Korea, to avoid a military confrontation on the Korean peninsula. About 37,000 American troops are stationed in South Korea, close to the border with the North.

China, which shares a long border with North Korea, has been a close ally of Pyongyang and a key supplier of food and fuel to the Stalinist dictatorship. But U.S. officials say that China shares Washington’s fear that North Korea will become a nuclear power. They want Beijing to make clear to Pyongyang that it won’t succeed in dividing the international community.

“We hope they condemn it and call for it to be ended and verifiably disassembled,” a senior administration official said Thursday.

After meeting with Jiang, Bush will travel to a summit of Pacific Rim leaders in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. At that summit, the concerns surrounding North Korea are expected to dominate a meeting Saturday that Bush will have with President Kim Dae Jung of South Korea and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan.