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U.S., China Talk Defense

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is urging Chinese leaders to reopen talks with Taiwan and to curb exports of missile technology.

Albright also hopes to learn more about North Korea's overtures to South Korea and its mysterious leader Kim Jung-il.

Albright's hastily arranged visit is a chance to accelerate a lowering of tensions in the region, but top aides stressed the Clinton administration would not relent in its exploration of a shield against North Korean missile attack.

Even though the U.S. is set to announce negotiations to stop the development and export of North Korean missile technology, the program has progressed to the point it poses a threat, the officials said.

If the talks succeed, shipments to Iran, Pakistan and possibly other nations could end, Similarly, Albright is pressing for curbs on Chinese exports, a long-sought U.S. plea.

The negotiations, due to be announced shortly, follow a decision by North Korea to extend a moratorium on missile flight tests.

Also due soon is an announcement of a visit by a high-level North Korean official to Washington, as well as talks to reaffirm North Korea's pledge to halt a nuclear weapons program.

China opposes a missile defense, saying it would spur a race to develop more potent offensive nuclear weapons.

In Geneva, China renewed its attack on the prospective program, saying it created a need for a treaty to ban arms in outer space.

"A program aimed at the domination of outer space has been put forward and (is) under implementation with a view to seeking unilateral military and strategic superiority," Chinese Ambassador Hu Xiaodi told the 66-nation Conference on Disarmament.

On Monday, the Clinton administration lifted a 50-year embargo on trade with North Korea, permitting American companies and individuals to trade with and transfer money to North Korea.

North Korea responded Wednesday, extending the moratorium on missile tests it first announced as a suspension nine months ago.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Philip Reeker, said, "We welcome the North Korean statement and the continued restraint by Pyongyang."

While the two sides also will hold a new round of talks on terrorism, North Korea remains on the State Department's list of terrorism sponsors. Under U.S. law, that prohibits most U.S. aid and requires Washington to oppose World Bank loans to North Korea.

In the meantime, Albright arrived at dawn Thursday in Beijing for talks with Chinese leaders. She began her visit by seeing Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan for a luncheon meeting.

She met later in the day with Vice Premier Qian Qichen and then had other meetings scheduled with Premier Zhu Rongji. Albright was due to meet Chinese President Jiang Zemin Thursday evening.

Tang's spokesman Zhu Bangzao, told reporters ties had slowly recovered from the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Begrade, Yugoslavia, 13 months ago.

The United States said the bombing, during the conflict over Kosovo, was accidental, but China has been skeptical.

"Thanks to the joint efforts, especially the efforts made by the two heads of state, relations between China and the United States have gradually moved on to the road of improvement," Zhu quoted Tang as telling Albright. "This kind of improvement is hard-won."

But Tang warned that the potential for disruption remained over Taiwan, which he described as the core problem in relations, Zhu said. Tang demanded Washington stop selling the island weapons, exclude it from any regional missile defense system and abide by commitments not to recognize an independent Taiwan.

On Friday, she files to Seoul, South Korea, for an update on the first meeting of the heads of North and South Korea.

The summit last week in Pyongyang produced an agreement between South Korea's Kim Dae-jung and North Korea's Kim Jong-il to work for peace and unity on their bitterly divided peninsula.

The North Korean leader held talks in Beijing before the summit. Albright intends to press the Chinese, who helped set up the summit, for more information about him, his economic policy and whether he is committed to peace on the Korean peninsula, a senior U.S. official said.

The moves toward reconciliation between the two Koreas raised questions bout the continued presence of some 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea as a barrier to invasion from the north. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called on the Clinton administration to begin considering a pullout.

But administration officials and other key members of Congress said the threat remains and so should the troops, which cost the U.S. an estimated $3.2 billion a year to maintain.

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