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By Andrew Quinn
BEIJING May 4 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday that the United States was willing to work with North Korea if it changed its ways, and also said more pressure should be bought to bear on Sudan and Syria.
Speaking in Beijing at the end of two-days of high-level meetings overshadowed by a crisis over a Chinese dissident who had sought refuge at the U.S. embassy, Clinton sought to underscore that Washington and Beijing could still work together on key international issues.
"We see two nations that are now thoroughly and inescapably interdependent," Clinton said in prepared remarks in the closed door meeting.
On North Korea, where the United States wants China to put more pressure on the isolated nation's leadership to reign in its nuclear ambitions, Clinton said Washington was still willing to work with Pyongyang if it changes its ways.
"The new leadership in Pyongyang still has the opportunity to change course and put their people first. If they focus on honouring their commitments and rejoining the international community, and on feeding and educating their citizens, the United States will welcome them and work with them," she said.
Clinton also underscored that the United States and China - both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - could work together to put similar pressure on Iran over its nuclear program and take strong action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's ongoing crackdown against anti-government protests.
U.S. officials say China has been more than willing to consider steps against Iran, which is preparing for a new round of talks with major powers on the nuclear issue, but claim Beijing has not yet played a sufficient role in the international response to Syria's crisis.
"If we ease off the pressure or waiver in our resolve, Iran will have less incentive to negotiate in good faith or to take the necessary steps to address the international community's concerns," Clinton said.
She also urged China to join the United States and other countries in considering additional sanctions against Syria's Assad, who Washington and its allies accuse of failing to comply with a peace plan drawn up by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
"Now it's critical that the international community - including China and the United States - hold the regime accountable for its commitments," Clinton said. "The credibility of the (Security) Council is at stake."
Clinton applauded Beijing for supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution backing an African Union peace plan for Sudan and South Sudan, and called on China to send a strong message to Khartoum that it must unconditionally halt all cross-border attacks, particularly its "provocative aerial bombardments" against its southern neighbor.
U.S. officials say Beijing's considerable economic leverage in both Khartoum and Juba could be an important factor in calming hostilities between the two countries, which have lurched perilously close to war following the South's peaceful secession last July.
This week's U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing, the fourth such annual meeting between the two countries, was meant to highlight growing cooperation between the world's two largest economies, often portrayed as potential future adversaries.
But the meetings were overshadowed by a diplomatic crisis that erupted over blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who had sought refuge in the U.S. embassy last week.
Chen agreed to leave on Wednesday, but has subsequently said he wants to travel to the United States, spurring frantic negotiations between U.S. diplomats and Chinese officials in an attempt to find a face-saving solution before Clinton departs Beijing on Saturday.
While human rights has been on the official program of this week's talks, Clinton has made little mention of it in public comments as U.S. officials sought to avoid further complicating the situation.
On Friday, Clinton repeated cautious but pointed comments that she made earlier this week, saying all governments had the responsibility to protect the "fundamental freedoms" of their citizens.
"These are not Western values -- they are universal rights that apply to all people in all places," Clinton said in her prepared remarks. (Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Ken Wills and Jonathan Thatcher)