Friday, August 11, 2006

Senators press China on Iran, N.Korea

A group of U.S. senators pressed China on its ties with North Korea and Iran, they said on Friday as they neared the end of a visit that covered Washington's often volatile trade and security links with the rising Asian power. READ MORE

China's backing of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning North Korea's missile tests last month was "a historic and very significant step", said Senator Mark Dayton, a Minnesota Democrat.

China has hosted six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear weapons that also include the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Negotiations have stalled since November, following a U.S. crackdown on North Korean bank transactions spurred by claims Pyongyang counterfeited U.S. cash and trafficked drugs.

The visitors raised Washington's belief that China needed to do more to press North Korea to return to the talks, said Senator Arlen Specter, an Pennsylvania Republican.

"I did express the view that China could do more, having had such a long-standing relationship with North Korea, to help the negotiations," he told a news briefing in Beijing.

Specter said the congressmen also raised claims that a missile China had sold to Iran was possibly passed onto Hizbollah forces in Lebanon who fired it at an Israeli ship.

Chinese officials did not confirm the missile was Chinese but nor did they deny the claim, he said.

"The reply came from one of the representatives that sales were made to a sovereign country and it was under an arrangement, as I said before, that there would not be a resale or a transfer," he said.

But the senators said China's rising influence need not threaten the United States and played down the possibility of lawmakers passing legislation that would punish China for its currency policies.

Ted Stevens, a Republican from Alaska, said the senators were pleased with the openness with which the Chinese had discussed the yuan and trade issues.

"I do think that they're making progress and I at least am one to urge that we use caution in trying to put up roadblocks," he said.

Eight senators were due to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao on Saturday before ending their six-day visit.