US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Chinese leaders on Tuesday for talks in which North Korea's nuclear programme is expected to be high on the agenda.
North Korea has promised to abandon all nuclear weapons and programmes in exchange for economic and diplomatic incentives under an agreement between the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States reached in Beijing in 2005.
However, the deal has been stymied by Pyongyang's failure to meet an end-2007 deadline to disclose its nuclear programmes.
A senior US official said Rice hoped her Asian trip would act as "a real catalyst to get over this bar of a good declaration" and she particularly wanted help from China, North Korea's major trading partner and traditional Communist ally.
"We continue to believe that if anyone is capable of convincing the North that this kind of transparency is the only way forward, it's the Chinese," said the official, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the diplomacy.
According to US officials and analysts, the sticking point has been Pyongyang's reluctance to discuss any nuclear technology it may have transferred to other nations, notably Syria, as well as its suspected pursuit of uranium enrichment.
The United States has questions about any possible North Korean role in a suspected Syrian covert nuclear site that was bombed by Israel in September. Syria has denied having a nuclear programme but the case remains murky.
Rice, who attended South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's inauguration in Seoul on Monday, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday and flies to Tokyo on Wednesday.
She has no plans to visit Pyongyang, where the New York Philharmonic orchestra will play a concert featuring the works of Antonin Dvorak and George Gershwin on Tuesday.
In Beijing, Rice was due to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao after meeting Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
"Our two sides are working very hard to implement an important agreement," Yang told Rice in possible reference to a planned defense hotline between the two countries.
"...I'm delighted to have this opportunity to exchange views with you on how to further our cooperative relationship and how to increase our communications, coordination and cooperation on major international issues."
Rice responded with a reference to "a very large and very important agenda" of bilateral and global issues to be discussed.
The talks are likely to touch on efforts to get a third UN Security Council resolution passed imposing sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program, as well as on human rights, an issue in focus ahead of this year's Olympic Games in Beijing.
Rice also plans to discuss how the six nations that reached the agreement on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions might monitor it, including tracking whether North Korea proliferates nuclear technology in the future. (Reuters)
Rice in China to seek progress on North Korea