SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice met with South Korea’s president Friday to discuss the nuclear standoff with the North and plans to pull thousands of U.S. troops from the South.

Rice, who was capping a three-nation Asian tour, also gave President Roh Moo-hyun a letter from President Bush emphasizing his commitment to good relations with Seoul. She later thanked South Korea for maintaining its commitment to send 3,000 troops to Iraq despite the beheading of a South Korean hostage.

“Your trip to South Korea is made at a very appropriate time,” Roh told Rice at the presidential Blue House.

Rice arrived in South Korea after stops in Japan and China.

“President Roh emphasized the need to strengthen the South Korea-U.S. alliance, and National Security Adviser Rice also said she expected South Korea-U.S. relations to further develop based on a firm friendship and trust between the two countries’ leaders,” said Roh spokesman Kim Chong-min.

Earlier Friday, Chinese President Hu Jintao expressed “serious concern” to Rice about American arms sales to Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its territory.

Hu said Beijing would not tolerate moves by the self-ruled island toward formal independence and appealed to Washington to avoid sending the “wrong signal” to its government.

Hu’s comments came a day after his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, who holds a key military post, pressed Rice for Washington to end sales of advanced weapons to Taiwan’s popularly elected government.

China says it worries that U.S. support for Taiwan is encouraging activists who want to make its de facto independence permanent – a step that Beijing says could lead to war.

Jiang, chairman of the Communist Party commission that runs China’s military, pressed Rice for Washington to abide by a U.S. commitment made in the 1980s to reduce and eventually end weapons sales to Taiwan, state television reported.

Taiwan and the communist mainland have been ruled separately since 1949. The United States has no formal relations with Taiwan, but is its main arms supplier and military protector.

According to an official traveling with Rice, the national security adviser on Thursday affirmed the “one-China policy,” which does not support Taiwan independence. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Rice repeated Bush’s opposition to any unilateral change in Taiwan’s status.

Rice visited Beijing to seek Chinese support for Washington’s demand that North Korea give up nuclear weapons development, as well as other issues, including Iraq.

Beijing has arranged three rounds of talks among the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia on Washington’s demand that the North give up its nuclear weapons program.

During last month’s talks, Washington offered the North energy aid and a security guarantee in exchange for dismantling its atomic weapons program.

The dispute erupted in 2002 when Washington said Pyongyang had admitted running a secret nuclear program in violation of a 1994 deal under which it received energy aid.

Later Friday, Rice met Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon and praised Seoul’s commitment to sending 3,000 troops to the northern Iraqi town of Irbil beginning next month. The mission, which will be joined by 600 South Korean soldiers already in Iraq, will make Seoul the biggest partner in the coalition after the United States and Britain.

Rice applauded what she called “the great strength that the Republic of Korea has demonstrated in supporting the effort in Iraq to stabilize the country.”

The dispatch is considered an important gesture toward Seoul’s most important ally. The government pledged to follow through despite last month’s beheading of Kim Sun-il by militants after the government rejected their demand to scrap its deployment.

The hostage killing dented public support for the dispatch. On Friday, a handful of demonstrators rallied outside government buildings in Seoul, some holding signs with a defaced photo of Rice with the words “War Criminal.”

While in Seoul, Rice was expected to discuss U.S. plans to withdraw thousands of troops stationed in the South.

The U.S. military announced last month it plans to withdraw a third of its 37,500 soldiers stationed here by 2006 as part of a global overhaul to make U.S. forces more flexible.

The troop cut would be the largest here since the 1970s and tests an alliance that has helped underpin U.S. policy in Asia since the 1950-53 Korean War, when American soldiers helped repel a North Korean invasion.

Some in South Korea say the pullout is too sudden and could be seen by North Korea as a sign of weakness.

Rice is expected to leave for the United States later Friday.

AP-ES-07-09-04 0819EDT

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