Thursday, April 8, 2004

Vice President Dick Cheney is scheduled to leave today on a seven-day trip to Asia, where he will discuss North Korea, Taiwan and trade with Chinese leaders.

Mr. Cheney will travel to Beijing and Shanghai and is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and former President Jiang Zemin, who still controls the Chinese military, according to a senior Bush administration official.

North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program will be discussed during stops in China, Japan and South Korea, the senior official said.

“The North Korean problem is an example of the bigger problem we’ve had to deal with on the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” the official said.

China has taken a “leading role” in trying to win North Korea’s agreement to dismantle its nuclear-arms program, the official said. Japan, South Korea and Russia also are working on the issue.

“We’ve now got everybody pretty well signed up, except the North Koreans, for the notion of complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of their capability,” the official said. “There’s no touchdown pass here, so to speak, but we’ll keep working it as aggressively as we have in the past, and it will be an important subject, not only in Beijing, but in Tokyo and Seoul.”

Military stability efforts in Iraq are expected to be a key topic in Mr. Cheney’s talks in Japan and South Korea, especially after the kidnapping of Japanese and South Korean nationals by terrorists in Iraq.

“It’s a classic case of those who are opposed to what we’re trying to do in Iraq trying to change the behavior of governments through terror, intimidation, threat of violence against the citizens of those governments,” the official said.

The official said U.S. military action against the Shi’ite newspaper led by cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr was necessary because the newspaper had been inciting violence against coalition forces. Sheik al-Sadr is being sought on an arrest warrant accusing him of involvement in the killing of another Shi’ite cleric.

The official also said that talks with Chinese leaders will include discussions on Taiwan, which Beijing views as a breakaway province and the United States regards as an ally and defense partner.

The vice president will reiterate the U.S. policy of opposing “unilateral efforts to change the circumstances on the Taiwan Strait, on either side,” the senior official said. “We believe that the differences between Beijing and Taipei ought to be resolved through negotiation.”

The official said the U.S. relationship with China “is better today than three years ago,” when a crisis erupted over a Chinese F-8 jet colliding with a U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane over the South China Sea. China’s military imprisoned 23 U.S. military personnel on the aircraft for 11 days after it made an emergency landing in the country.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t have differences. We do,” the official said. “But we address those in a frank and forthright manner.”

In Shanghai, Mr. Cheney will give a speech at Fudan University on Thursday, about 20 years after President Reagan spoke at the school. In South Korea, the vice president is scheduled to arrive in Seoul on its election day. The visit will be awkward because South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is facing impeachment.

“We felt it was important, going through the region, to stop in the region and pay our respects to our Korean allies and also have a chance to visit with our troops and General [Leon] LaPorte,” the official said, referring to the commander of U.S. forces in Korea.

The first stop on Mr. Cheney’s trip will be Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, where he will talk to U.S. military personnel. The vice president will meet Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Tokyo as well as the emperor and empress of Japan.

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