Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged Thursday a sharp disagreement with China over how the international community should respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria and urged Beijing to play a “positive” role in the U.N. Security Council on the issue.
China has strongly opposed strikes on Syria by the U.S. or its allies, in response to an Aug. 21 chemical attack near Damascus that the U.S. blames on government forces and says killed more than 1,400 people. In the council, where China holds veto power, it has joined with Russia in opposing action against Syria.
Kerry spoke at the State Department before a meeting and working lunch with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who reiterated the need for political talks to end the violence in the Middle Eastern nation that has killed an estimated 100,000 people and displaced 2 million more.
“While we appreciate China’s support for a political solution — the only solution we believe is ultimately available and possible — we do have differences between our nations and have disagreed sharply over how the international community should respond to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons,” Kerry said.
“With negotiations ongoing at the Security Council, we look forward to China playing a positive, constructive, important role,” he said — seeking support for strong resolutions to implement an agreement forged by U.S. and Russia to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international supervision.
Wang said China was keeping an “open mind” on issues up for discussion Thursday, including Syria, North Korea’s nuclear program, climate change and cybersecurity, which is a thorny issue in U.S.-China relations.
He welcomed the agreement between the U.S.-Russia, which now needs to be endorsed by Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — whose board is scheduled to meet on Sunday. Wang said the Security Council needs to recognize and support the organization’s decision.
Thursday’s discussions are the latest chapter in an effort to strengthen U.S.-China ties after a June summit in California between President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping.
Despite U.S. reluctance to restart talks with North Korea before it recommits to nuclear disarmament, Wang sounded upbeat about the prospects for long-stalled international negotiations that were traditionally hosted by China, which is Pyongyang’s only major ally.
Wang said he would discuss with Kerry how to relaunch the six-nation talks and push forward the denuclearization process. “I am confident that we will be able to reach new, important agreement,” he said, without elaborating. But afterward, there was no indication of progress.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. position has not changed. She said Kerry detailed to Wang “several disturbing developments” that indicate North Korea continues to flout its previous commitments to denuclearize.
Concerns over North Korea’s nuclear program have deepened since it conducted its third underground atomic test in February. There are also signs it is restarting a plutonium reactor that can produce fissile material for bombs.
Pyongyang wants the nuclear talks to restart without preconditions.