Powell sets Asian agenda
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Human rights is likely to top the agenda when U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Beijing later this month.
But while Powell will raise the testy issue, he will also try to put an end to strained relations between Beijing and China over the last few months, a senior U.S. administration official said Tuesday.
Powell's visit to Beijing during a seven-day Asian tour comes as Beijing announces it will put two Chinese-American scholars, Gao Zhan and Li Shaomin, on trial for espionage.
The administration official said information from the Chinese about the detainees' charges has been "vague" and the circumstances surrounding their arrest seems suspicious.
"The answer is we haven't been told," the official said, adding the matter has been "an obstacle to full and effective relations" between the United States and China.
Powell is also due to visit Japan and Korea before traveling to Hanoi, Vietnam for a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers.
In Japan, the senior administration official said Powell would be following up on what he billed as a very successful visit by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the United States earlier this month.
Powell's visit to Japan comes on the heels of the arrest of a U.S. serviceman in Okinawa for the suspected rape of a Japanese woman. The United States stations the vast majority of its troops based in Japan in Okinawa.
The presence of U.S. troops in Okinawa has been a sore spot in U.S.-Japan relations for years.
An agreement signed with Tokyo during the Clinton administration said the United States would seek to diminish its "footprint" on the island.
But the official said it was "too early" to discuss a reassignment of U.S. troops away from Okinawa because a number of senior positions at the Pentagon, where such a decision would be taken, have yet to be filled.
The official said that while Powell would seek to "cement" the U.S.-Japan relationship, the alliance is "working pretty well, and there is not a crying need to fix it."
North Korea 'unique'
In South Korea, Powell plans to further coordinate U.S. policy toward North Korea with its ally.
In May, President Bush announced his administration would be willing to resume dialogue with the reclusive North Koreans, but said talks must include not only the North's missile program, but also its conventional forces deployed along the demilitarized zone or DMZ.
He called North Korea a "difficult" and "critical case," and said that it is "ambiguous" as to what the North Koreans are looking for from the United States.
"North Korea is unique," Bush said, saying that it is a "difficult challenge" for the United States and South Korea to negotiate with the communist state.
Last week, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said it was "very possible" that Powell could meet with the North Korean Foreign Minister on the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting in Hanoi, but the senior administration official said that a meeting had not yet been set.
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