MUNICH, Germany — Google's top lawyer said Monday the global search giant's dispute with China over Internet censorship will probably be resolved in weeks, but it could take months.

David Drummond said Google is holding discussions with the Chinese government on its threat to pull out of the country unless the government relents on censorship.

"This is likely, probably, (to) resolve itself in weeks, if not months," he told a conference on internet innovations and creative ideas. "The discussions with the Chinese government are going, so that's definitely happening."

Google's threat to pull out of China on Jan. 12 followed the company's discovery of dozens of cyber attacks on Gmail accounts of human rights activists in China, Europe and the United States who were protesting Chinese policies.

Drummond said the "organized and politically motivated" attacks came from hackers in China but Google doesn't know who was behind the attacks.

The Chinese government denied involvement earlier Monday in Internet attacks and defended its online censorship.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized countries engaging in cyber-censorship and urged China to investigate the attacks against Google.

In a speech in Washington, Clinton cited China as among a number of countries where there had been "a spike in threats to the free flow of information" over the past year. She also named Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

China's Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. of damaging relations between the two countries while a Chinese state newspaper said Washington was imposing "information imperialism" on China.

Drummond echoed Clinton's call saying, "Internet censorship is a real problem — and it's not just China. We're seeing it in many places in the world."

"It's time for governments to start getting involved here — pressuring governments that are more repressive to make a change," he said.

Google's decision to stop censoring searches in China marked a major shift for the Internet's search leader.

Drummond said Google obeyed Chinese laws requiring some politically and socially sensitive issues to be blocked from search results available in other countries in hopes that by being in the world's most populous nation "we could be a force for openness ... and perhaps persuade the government to circumvent some of the controls of the Internet."

"That didn't happen," he said. "Indeed, things have gotten tighter and even more closed."

"We said at the time four years ago that if that happened we would reconsider," Drummond said.

"What we are experiencing is that we're not having the effect on the openness there, and that it would be better to serve our users by offering uncensored," he said.

In addition, Drummond said, censoring the human rights activists whose e-mail accounts were hacked would go against Google's values.

The company's acquiescence to Beijing's censorship demands had outraged free-speech advocates and even some shareholders, who argued Google's cooperation violated the company's "don't be evil" motto.

Beijing promotes Internet use for commerce, but heavily censors content it deems pornographic, anti-social or politically subversive and blocks many foreign news and social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook, and the popular video-sharing site YouTube. Drummond said news about Tibet, Tiananmen Square, the Communist Party and other issues were also blocked.

He said Google is gratified at the global response because "it gets more attention paid to this question of internet censorship."

Drummond called the dispute "a human rights issue" but also a trade issue.

"In this age for a government to say this is my internal domestic media market, I have to control it, and so I'm going to trade with you on everything else but ... I'm going to keep out multinational Internet companies — it's just not tenable," Drummond said.

Although Google's search engine is the most popular worldwide, it's a distant second in China, where the homegrown processes more than 60 percent of all requests.

More than 1,200 people are attending the three-day DLD conference — which stands for Digital-Life-Design. It is chaired by Hubert Burda of Germany, owner of Hubert Burda Media, and digital investor Yossi Vardi, who co-pioneered instant messaging. (AP)