BEIJING – In what could be a test for U.S.-Chinese relations, Secretary of State Colin Powell is urging a stronger effort from Beijing to persuade North Korea to curb its nuclear weapons programs, a U.S. official said Sunday.
Powell, on the second stop of an Asian trip, also was making the case that China should not veto a new U.S. resolution to the U.N. Security Council that would authorize the use of force to disarm Iraq and remove its president, Saddam Hussein.
The resolution is to be offered early this week jointly with Britain and possibly Spain. Until now, China has favored continued U.N. weapons inspections.
Receiving Powell at a state guest house at midmorning Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said China attaches great importance to Powell's visit.
"There is no doubt that this current visit will enhance mutual understanding and cooperation between our two countries," Tang said during a photo session. Powell had meetings planned later in the day with President Jiang Zemin and Vice President Hu Jintao.
On Sunday, in Tokyo, Powell said time was running out on demands by the United Nations for Iraq to disarm. He also has said the clock is ticking on the North Korea problem, an apparent reference to the prospect that the communist government could be only months away from having as many as six plutonium-based nuclear weapons.
Powell sees international pressure against North Korea, with China playing a leading role, as the best hope for inducing the North to end its nuclear ambitions. China has seemed reluctant thus far to use its influence against its longtime ally, a major recipient of Chinese aid.
"Time is passing, and we're trying to use that time to the maximum, but at the same time, we're not going to let time become a weapon to be used against us," Powell, in a reference to North Korea, told reporters accompanying him.
Powell has told U.S. lawmakers that China is key to a peaceful outcome to the North Korea standoff. "China has a role to play," he said, "and I hope China will play that role."
As his meetings with Chinese leaders neared, Powell and his aides have become less assertive about what they expect from China.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, en route to Beijing, told reporters that Powell "looks forward to considering with the Chinese how to build on their existing efforts with North Korea." A senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, was blunter, saying the United States wants China to do more.
Boucher noted that China supported a successful move in the International Atomic Energy Agency recently to refer the North Korean nuclear issue to the Security Council.
The Bush administration welcomed that step as affirmation of global uneasiness over the issue, which Washington suggests undercuts North Korea's insistence that the North and the United States should address the issue one-on-one.
Powell rejects that on grounds that a U.S.-North Korea agreement in 1994, which held out the promise of a nuclear-free North, has collapsed because of violations.
Powell believes a regional approach is far preferable, but North Korea has remained adamantly opposed. China has said little more than it prefers that North Korea forswear nuclear weapons.
Ahead of Powell's visit to Beijing, a top North Korean official, Kim Yong Nam, met Friday with Chinese officials. China's official news agency, Xinhua, said the two sides promised to enhance friendship between their countries, but the report gave no other details.
From China, Powell was going to South Korea for Tuesday's inauguration of President-elect Roh Moo-Hyun. Afterward, the two will talk privately.
Powell admitted Sunday to widespread anti-American sentiment in South Korea and said the United States will have to do a better job of demonstrating benefits of the alliance between the two countries.
He said there are South Koreans who do not remember the half-century history of U.S.-South Korean ties.
The alliance "created conditions for solid economic growth that has brought South Korea clearly into the camp of democracy," Powell said. "They have benefited greatly from this alliance."