Secretary of State Colin Powell met with top Chinese officials Monday and said China is eager to play a positive role in helping to resolve the developing crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

After meeting with Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, Powell told a news conference that China was undertaking initiatives with North Korea that he was unable to discuss publicly.

Powell also made his case for Chinese support for a second U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq that would authorize military action against that country if President Saddam Hussein refuses to disarm.

China's stand on the issue is crucial because of its veto power as a permanent member of the Council. Powell said he did not press the Chinese leaders on their plans because the second resolution has yet to be tabled. Until now, China has supported a continuation of U.N. inspections in Iraq.

Powell expressed hope that Iraq will comply with the U.N.'s demands. "If Iraq does not comply and the U.N. refuses to act, it will be a bad day for the U.N.," Powell said.

The United States and Britain were planning to introduce a second resolution on Monday.

Powell said the United States has seen "some setbacks" in China concerning protection of human rights.

Since December, he said the United States has been "deeply concerned by the execution of a prominent Tibetan, the detention of more than a dozen pro-democracy activists and the continuation of a pattern of inconsistent and irregular legal and judicial procedures."

On North Korea, Powell said China "is anxious to play as helpful a role as they can." Both the United States and China, Powell said, would view with "great seriousness" any attempt by North Korea to take steps to utilize the plutonium at its nuclear facility at Yongbyon to develop nuclear weapons.

The administration believes North Korea could have six such weapons in a matter of months.

China is the chief provider of foreign assistance to North Korea. Privately, administration officials have said China has not used all the leverage it has to induce North Korea to curb its nuclear ambitions.

After Powell's news conference, he met with President Jiang Zemin.

Powell was flying to South Korea later Monday, the third and final stop of his East Asia swing.

During a morning photo session with Powell, Tang said, "There is no doubt that this current visit will enhance mutual understanding and cooperation between our two countries."

En route here on Sunday, Powell's spokesman, Richard 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. Officials believe the IAEA move undercuts North Korea's insistence that the North and the United States should address the issue one-on-one.

Powell rejects that approach 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 negotiation with North Korea is far more preferable.