Secretary of State Rice in Beijing for Talks on North Korea Nuclear Program

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with her Chinese counterpart Tuesday in Beijing, the second stop of a regional swing aimed at jump-starting the stalled process of dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs.

At the start of talks with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Rice said the countries had a "very large and very important agenda," while making no direct references to North Korea.

"I look forward to our discussions on a range of issues, bilateral issues and global issues, issues on which we really must cooperate if we are to contribute to a peaceful and secure environment," Rice said.

Yang said the sides were "working very hard to implement an important agreement" — an apparent reference to North Korea's commitment to dismantle its nuclear programs in return for aid and diplomatic benefits.

"I'm delighted to have this opportunity to exchange views with you on how to further our cooperative relationship and how to increase our communications, coordination and co-operation on major international issues," Yang told Rice before reporters were ushered from the hall at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.

In comments afterward, Rice again criticized plans by Taiwan to hold a referendum on United Nations entry, a poll that has prompted heated condemnations from Beijing, which claims the self-governing island as its own territory.

"Taiwan is a democratic entity that will have to make its own decision but we believe this referendum is not going to help anyone. In fact, it should not be held," Rice said.

Washington has also been harshly critical of China's curbs on civil and religious rights and Rice said the two countries committed themselves to a renewed dialogue on such issues.

A senior State Department official said Rice raised specific cases of concern with Yang, but gave no details.

"We do this with respect, but these are issues that are very near and dear to American values," Rice said.

Rice arrived in the Chinese capital Tuesday morning after attending the inauguration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and lauding his intent to hold North Korea to its promise to abandon nuclear weapons.

China's Foreign Ministry said Rice would also meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, a senior adviser on foreign affairs.

China has hosted six-nation talks on North Korea's denuclearization process and has been encouraged by Washington to pressure its neighbor to comply with an October agreement to declare all its nuclear programs.

North Korea says it has already provided a list of its programs, but Washington says it was not a complete accounting.

While North Korea maintains a large diplomatic mission in Beijing, Rice has ruled out talks with North Korean officials while in China, saying such a meeting was neither warranted nor could be of any use in the current circumstances.

North Korea shut down its main nuclear reactor last year as required by a breakthrough agreement reached at the Beijing talks.

However, American researchers who visited the complex earlier this month reported that officials there said they had slowed the removal of fuel rods because the United States and other nations have fallen behind in supplying aid promised under the disarmament deal.

U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill met with North Korean officials during a visit to Beijing last week, saying afterward that multilateral talks cannot resume until the North has tendered a "complete and correct declaration" of its nuclear programs. Such a document would then be discussed by the six nations in Beijing, he said.

Rice's visit comes the same day as a landmark performance by the New York Philharmonic in North Korea.

Rice, a pianist, has pointedly ignored the unprecedented event that some have dubbed "violin diplomacy," saying: "I don't think we should get carried away with what listening to Dvorak is going to do in North Korea."