Rice Tours China Quake Zone, Meets With Leaders On North Korea

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised China's earthquake recovery efforts during a visit to the disaster zone Sunday, contrasting Beijing's "attentive" response with Myanmar's reluctance to accept outside aid after a devastating cyclone.

Rice was the highest-ranking American to inspect damage from the May 12 quake that destroyed a wide swath of southwest China's mountainous Sichuan province. The magnitude-7.9 quake killed almost 70,000 people, including thousands of schoolchildren who died when their classrooms crumbled.

She stopped in Dujiangyan, a badly hit city of 250,000, where officials said 3,000 people died and 90 percent of the buildings are now uninhabitable.

"My goodness," she said as she surveyed a pile of rubble — once a gym — before heading to a community of thousands of temporary homes and a water purification facility that is run by an American charity.

"I can see that the Chinese government and officials have been attentive," Rice told reporters after the tour. "I can see how much effort has gone into the recovery. But with a disaster of this magnitude, no one can do it alone."

"We are very glad that the Chinese people have reached out for help," she added.

Rice said China's efforts contrasted with those of Myanmar's ruling junta after Cyclone Nargis hit in early May. Myanmar's government came under worldwide criticism for failing to speed aid to survivors and initially barring foreign aid workers from the hardest-hit Irrawaddy delta.

Two weeks after the cyclone, the reclusive government authorized the United States to use 10 helicopters inside the country. This past week, the government's official death toll topped 84,500.

"It has been sad that ... instead of making possible the international community's response to their people, that they have put up barriers to that response," Rice said.

"Many lives could have been saved and many more could still be saved if we can get that response," she said. "This is not a matter of politics."

Grieving parents in Dujiangyan, about an hour's drive from the provincial capital of Chengdu, have tried to file a lawsuit demanding compensation along with an explanation and apology from the government for the large number of students killed. Officials have refused to accept their papers.

On the one-month anniversary of the quake, hundreds of parents of children killed in a school in hard-hit Beichuan staged a protest. Rice's visit, however, went without incident.

At the camp of temporary homes, she spoke to parents of a young boy. "I wish you the very best," she said. "I'm sorry you lost so much but I know you are going to recover. You have a great spirit."

The community, one of hundreds that have sprung up across the quake zone, had about 7,000 white-and blue prefabricated homes; officials said the number could grow to about 25,000.

After the tour, Rice headed to Beijing for meetings with President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Those sessions probably will focus on North Korea's destruction Friday of its nuclear reactor cooling tower at the Yongbyon facility — the end of the first phase of the country's denuclearization process — and what the next step will be.

So far, the United States and other countries have agreed to give North Korea the equivalent of 1 million tons of oil for disabling its main nuclear facility and providing a list of nuclear programs.

On Thursday, North Korea presented a 60-page accounting of its nuclear activities. As a result, President Bush said the U.S. was moving to ease some penalties against North Korea.

North Korea has 45 days to agree on procedures to verify its declaration. The U.S. plans to remove the country from a State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism within the same timing.

The next and far more complicated phase of the disarmament process is for North Korea to abandon and dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. So far, the other countries in six-nation negotiations — China, Japan, South Korea and Russia — have not said what they will give the North in exchange for doing so.

China is Rice's last stop on a trip that also took her to Germany, Japan and South Korea.