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Powell says differences narrowed in conflict over military transfers

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BEIJING — Following top-level talks with Chinese officials, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Saturday he was able to narrow differences with China on military exports. He also gave assurances that the U.S. missile defense initiative will not pose a threat to China.

Powell told a news conference that the two sides "were able to move the ball forward" on U.S. concerns about Chinese missile and weapons technology exports.

He added that there are still outstanding issues to be resolved.

At issue is China's record of compliance with a November 2000 agreement in which Beijing promised not to sell missiles or components to countries developing nuclear weapons.

The agreement was a breakthrough because it addressed U.S. concerns over suspected Chinese assistance to Pakistan, Iran and North Korea.

Powell said there was a need for expert consultations to iron out differences on these transfers.

On his first visit here since he became secretary of state, Powell met with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Premier Zhu Rongji, Vice Prime Minister Qian Qichen and Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan.

China's official Xinhua News Agency reported that Tang said while the two nations have various differences, they also have extensive and common interests. Tang added that China intends to work toward building a cooperative relationship with the United States.

Powell said he offered assurances to China that the missile defense system planned by the Bush administration would be limited. He added that it would not threaten the strategic deterrent of either China or Russia.

He did not say whether his comments softened Chinese opposition to the missile defense plan.

On the whole, Powell was upbeat about the relationship as he ticked off the areas in which the two countries are having or will have broadened contact.

He noted that the human rights dialogue the United States and China have maintained in the past will resume.

Powell also said that a joint military committee will soon reconvene to discuss ways of avoiding a repeat of the incident last April 1 when a U.S. reconnaissance plane collided with a Chinese military aircraft and was forced to make an emergency landing on China's Hainan island.

Military contacts were suspended following the incident but Powell said there was a chance they would resume, perhaps in modified form.

On Taiwan, Powell defended the U.S. military sales to the island. "It gives them the confidence they need to engage with China," he said.

Powell said he also raised concerns about what he said was a Chinese military buildup across the Taiwan Straits. In response, he said the Chinese side denied there was any such buildup.

His meeting with Tang, the foreign minister, occurred just days after an encounter between the two in Vietnam that included a discussion of U.S.-based scholars convicted by China of spying for Taiwan.

China released two of the scholars the following day, helping to improve the atmosphere for Saturday's talks. China's harassment of scholars with ties to the United States has been a major irritant to relations.

Powell said that in each of his meetings Saturday, he stressed the need to strengthen the rule of law in China so that there is a reduction of what he sees as wrongful arrests of scholars with links to the United States.

"I don't think that message was missed by any of my interlocutors," Powell said.

Jiang received Powell in an ornate reception room in the Great Hall of the People, chiding his visitor for planning only a 24-hour stay.

"I don't think it should count because it is so short," Jiang said of the quick visit. Powell noted that he's scheduled to return in the fall with President Bush.