A Sino-US agreement to 'detarget' nuclear missiles from each other's soil could emerge as a last-minute centrepiece of President Bill Clinton's visit to the mainland, which starts next week. A group of senior US officials, led by National Security Council aide Sandra Kristoff, was trying to hammer out a detargeting agreement in Beijing, the White House said. Although such a deal would have little practical use, it could provide a public relations rescue to the upcoming summit. Since political pressure caused Washington to drop the idea of lifting some 1989 sanctions in return for greater curbs on China's missile sales, both sides have been scrambling for substantive measures to announce when the two presidents meet. While confirming negotiations on the detargeting issue, White House spokesman Mike McCurry refused to discuss its prospects. 'That is something that lends stability to the concept of deterrence and, in that respect, is something that enhances the security of both sides,' he said. Defence Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon said of the potential agreement: 'What it means is that if there were to be an accidental launch of some sort, the missile would not be targeted at a specific place. It would go off into the ocean or something like that. 'The issue is to find ways to reduce the hair-trigger aspect of strategic nuclear arsenals. That's why we think the agreement we have with Russia is significant and why we think a similar agreement with China would help stabilise the nuclear balance.' US officials are aware that America's vast nuclear arsenal already makes it almost impossible for China to launch a nuclear attack against the US. But what is at stake for President Clinton is the emergence of an agreement as a 'political, confidence-building symbol', according to US officials. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright praised Beijing for a 'sea-change' in its attitude towards missile proliferation. Speaking at a Senate hearing, she said: 'They have improved, I think the record would show it. But they still need to improve. That's why the President is going to raise all these issues when he is in Beijing.'