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Texas Summit: Short, Relaxed

China's Jiang vows to help stop North Korea's arms program. But he's less supportive on Iraq.

October 26, 2002|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

CRAWFORD, Texas — Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, making what is believed to be a valedictory visit to President Bush at his Texas ranch, pledged support Friday for diplomatic efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program but appeared to elude pressure to back U.S. policies on Iraq.

The short, relaxed summit meeting, designed to help seal Jiang's legacy as a statesman after 13 years in power, came as China finds itself in a position to assist or block Bush's two main foreign objectives: shutting down the nuclear potentials of Iraq and North Korea.

In brief remarks to reporters, Jiang claimed that North Korea's recent admission that it has continued to pursue a program to enrich uranium caught the Chinese off guard.

"We were completely in the dark as for the recent developments," Jiang said. "But today, President Bush and I agreed the problem should be resolved peacefully."

He pledged to consult with the United States and other countries to develop a common strategy but stopped short of promising to use China's considerable economic and political influence to pressure the North Koreans.

A senior Bush administration official said the apparent lack of progress was not discouraging.

"We are at the beginning of a campaign to mobilize the world against this program, and I think we are making good progress," said the official, who requested anonymity.

On Iraq, Bush said he had made his case to Jiang that any new U.N. resolution must include "consequences" in the event of a failure by Baghdad to comply with demands that it eliminate any biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. Bush's remarks made clear that China had made no commitments on that score.

"Today we discussed, and I urged President Jiang to support, a new Security Council resolution demanding Iraq fully disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction," Bush said.

The senior administration official said the Chinese reiterated their position that Iraq must comply fully with all current U.N. resolutions. However, the official added, they did not go beyond that to indicate how they might vote in the Security Council either on a U.S.-proposed resolution or on a new, milder resolution proposed Friday by Russia and France.

"I think we have common ground on which to work," the official said. "I'm not going to characterize where I think the Chinese will wind up on this issue finally."

Jiang's visit to Crawford was chilled -- literally -- by low-hanging clouds and occasional drizzle. Bush, who is famously punctual, paced his front porch while he waited for the Chinese leader to arrive. At one point, he looked pointedly at his watch and then joked to reporters: "We could be fishing."

The previous day, Bush had told campaign audiences that Laura Bush was already in Crawford, preparing for Jiang's visit by "sweeping the porch." Asked Friday if she appreciated the remark, the first lady shook her head and mouthed, "No."

Jiang's motorcade pulled up to the ranch half an hour behind schedule. Jiang, 76, was accompanied by his wife, Wang Yeping, also in her mid-70s, who walked unsteadily and appeared to cling to Bush's arm as he accompanied her into the stone house.

It was the leaders' third meeting, and the senior official said their level of comfort has grown.

"It was the most positive meeting between the two leaders," the official said.

Jiang is expected to step down next month as Chinese leader, although he is likely to retain several secondary titles that will allow him to remain active in the leadership. His tour of the U.S., which included visits to Chicago and a dinner with former President George H.W. Bush in Houston, has been seen as a kind of farewell visit.

The U.S. side mentioned Jiang's apparent impending retirement during the session, earning a wry and cryptic response from the Chinese leader.

"Ah, yes, many people are talking about that," Jiang said, according to the administration official. "He said there are many rumors floating around" about his future status and plans.

Jiang has taken credit over the last year for improving U.S.-China relations, considered steady and cordial now after a near-breach caused by the collision of a Chinese military jet and a U.S. spy plane almost 19 months ago.

All the same, the U.S. stopped short Friday of making moves, which China is seeking as signs of improved relations, toward renewing commercial satellite launches on Chinese rockets and military-to-military contacts.

Bush said he encouraged Jiang to improve human rights in China.

"I emphasized that no nation's efforts to counter terrorism should be used to justify suppressing minorities or silencing peaceful dissent," he said. "I shared with the president my views on the importance of China freeing prisoners of conscience, giving fair treatment to peoples of faith and preserving the rights of Hong Kong citizens."

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