U.S.-China Relationship Difficult, Lugar Says Before Hu Visit

U.S. Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the Foreign Relations Committee’s top Republican, said he’s concerned China isn’t doing enough to control the spread of nuclear material.

Reports that China has failed to prevent its companies from selling sensitive materials to Iran for its nuclear programs are “worrisome,” Lugar said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.

“We’re coming into a very different kind of relationship, which is more difficult for Americans to encompass,” Lugar said, speaking before next week’s visit to the U.S. by Chinese President Hu Jintao. “There is another great power there. It’s not necessarily an unfriendly power, but it’s not one that necessarily is going to reform at our behest.”

The senator, speaking on domestic issues, also advocated restoring a ban on assault weapons following the deadly shooting last weekend in Tucson, Arizona. Lugar, 78, serving his sixth six-year term, had tough words for Pakistan, saying the nation’s inability to control its borders made for “a very difficult relationship.”

He said he wasn’t optimistic that Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Pakistan this week would produce results. The vice president urged leaders there to go after militants, saying they pose a threat to the nation’s sovereignty. A confidential report ordered by President Barack Obama found last month that Pakistan had failed to crack down on terrorist havens in North Waziristan, U.S. officials have said, harming U.S. efforts to end the Afghan war.

‘Hold Your Horses’

“The Pakistanis would say they can only do so much,” Lugar said. “They’re saying to us, ‘Hold your horses.’ Well, we’re saying, ‘We can’t hold our horses. The Taliban are coming in here and the remnants of al-Qaeda. You’ve got to go after them.’”

Lugar said he believes Obama will name a new special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan following the Dec. 13 death of Richard Holbrooke, who held the post.

“He will need to be replaced,” Lugar said, declining to suggest any candidates.

Lugar said Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s visit to China earlier this month highlighted the challenges in the relationship between the two nations.

The trip “outlined both the possibilities and the difficulties, the difficulties being that we are not sure the Chinese military are as in touch with their civilian leadership that we will be seeing,” Lugar said. “I think they would -- the Chinese would claim the other way, that this is the way China works.”

Restraining North Korea

U.S. officials want China’s neighbors to back the U.S., including when it comes to restraining North Korea, he added.

“We’re making some very tough statements about this, as Gates goes to Japan and South Korea and says, you know, ‘You’ve got to do a great deal more to help the United States maintain at least posture in this area, vis-a-vis China, as well as North Korea,’” Lugar said.

A leading expert on Iran’s nuclear program said yesterday China remains “a major gap” in enforcing global sanctions on Iran. Lax oversight is enabling front companies to buy sensitive materials that can advance Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capability, said David Albright, a nuclear physicist who inspected Iran’s nuclear facilities for the United Nations’ atomic energy agency in the 1990s.

Gun Control

Lugar, who faces re-election in 2012 and is known for sometimes crossing party lines to vote with Democrats, said Congress should reinstate a ban on assault weapons following the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that killed six people and critically wounded Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords. He acknowledged such action was unlikely in the current political environment.

“I recognize the fact that the politics domestically in our country with regard to this are on a different track altogether,” he said. He noted that sales of ammunition soared following the attack, possibly on fears that Congress might react by restricting its availability.

He said he expected to have a Republican primary challenge next year. Tea Party activists in Indiana have said they are searching for a candidate to challenge Lugar, saying he’s not conservative enough for the state.

“It’s not one that I welcome, but nevertheless, this is a democracy,” Lugar said.

While Lugar has sided with Democrats on some issues, such as a proposal to let some children of illegal immigrants earn legal status, he said he’s had “very limited” contact with Obama during his first two years in the White House. The senator said he doesn’t expect that to change.

“I have no idea what the president’s desires are, but my guess is that he has a circle of people with whom he deals, and he’s found that to be satisfying,” Lugar said.

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