Rice Urges Easing Taiwan Tensions

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) hinted Monday that North Korea faces possible international sanctions if it flouts a diplomatic effort to halt its nuclear weapons program.

Rice also delivered subtle rebukes to China for raising the stakes in the perennial standoff with Taiwan and for the communist country's limitations on religious freedom.

"I made the point ... that I do hope there is an understanding that religious liberties are not a threat to changing societies," Rice said at a press conference.

Rice said she asked Chinese leaders for more help to bring the North Koreans back to the six-way weapons talks. The Pyongyang (search) regime has said it already has at least one nuclear weapon and has given no indication it is ready to bargain further.

"It goes without saying that to the degree that a nuclear free Korean peninsula gets more difficult to achieve if the North does not recognize that it needs to do that then of course we'll have to look at other options," Rice said at a press conference.

Rice did not spell out a fallback position, but it could include seeking tough economic sanctions on North Korea (search) through the United Nations Security Council (search). Theoretically, the United States might also launch a military attack, although Rice and other U.S. officials have repeatedly said they do not intend to do that.

"Obviously everyone is aware that there are other options in the international system," Rice said.

At the news conference, Rice said she told Chinese leaders the United States is unhappy with the recent passage of a law codifying China's intent to use military force if Taiwan formally breaks away.

The law, she said, "was not a welcome development because anything that increases tensions ... is not good."

"China and Taiwan cannot do this alone. They are eventually going to need one another to resolve this ... We are not pleased when either side does anything unilaterally."

Rice reiterated U.S. opposition to the potential lifting of an international arms embargo on China, a move the European Union seemed sure to take before the recent escalation of tensions with Taiwan.

Rice said she didn't discuss the embargo specifically with the Chinese, but she sounded encouraged by recent remarks from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that may signal that the EU is rethinking its plan.

Beijing was the final stop on a weeklong tour of Asian capitals for Rice, and it was the most delicate for America's new chief diplomat. President Bush's second-term pledge to carry democratic ideals around the globe has met with suspicion in China, where government control remains a strong and constant fact of daily life.

The United States is cooperating with China on several fronts, including the talks over North Korea's nuclear program. But Washington has complaints about China's record on human rights, its treatment of dissidents and the rampant piracy of movies, books and other goods.