Clinton urges China to help on Iran, North Korea

BEIJING Thu May 3, 2012 11:51am EDT

1 of 3. China's President Hu Jintao (R) smiles as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on during the opening ceremony of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue at the Diaoyutai Guesthouse in Beijing May 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

BEIJING (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged China on Thursday to help defuse tension over Iran, North Korea and other global flashpoints, seeking to salvage talks that have been overwhelmed by negotiations over a dissident.

In her opening remarks to the two-day U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, Clinton pressed China on human rights but avoided mention of Chen Guangcheng, a blind rights activist who sought protection in the U.S. embassy until he left under a deal to stay in China - a deal he later said he regretted.

Despite the uproar, Clinton said the United States hoped China would help rein in the nuclear activities of North Korea and Iran, and pressure the Syrian government to halt violence.

"On Iran, the United States and China share the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Clinton told U.S. and Chinese officials gathered in the Chinese capital.

"It is critical that we keep the pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations, negotiate seriously, and prove that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes," she said.

China is a major buyer of Iranian crude oil, and has resisted U.S. demands for sanctions threatening energy flows.

China has also resisted calls from Washington and its Asian allies for stronger pressure on North Korea, its neighbor and long-time ally that recently launched a rocket that the U.N. Security Council said violated sanctions.

Clinton said Washington and Beijing should "work together to make it clear to North Korea that strength and security will come from prioritizing the needs of its people - not further provocation."

But the uproar over the dissident Chen hovered over the opening of the U.S.-China talks.

Chen left the U.S. embassy on Wednesday after Washington said it had won assurances from Beijing about his safety following his escape from 19 months of captivity in his home.

But Chen later said he feared for his safety and wanted to leave for the United States.

"Of course, as part of our dialogue, the United States raises the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms," Clinton said in her remarks.

"We believe all governments have to answer our citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law and that no nation can or should deny those rights."

(Writing by Chris Buckley; Editing by Don Durfee and Robert Birsel)

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