Sat, Dec 14, 2002 - Page 1 News List

US still talking softly about North Korea


North Korea tested US patience yesterday, pressing on with a plan to reactivate a nuclear power plant at the center of a Cold War weapons crisis and demanding a US apology over the interception of a ship carrying Scud missiles.

But Washington, which has threatened to go to war with Iraq to rid it of weapons of mass destruction, insisted that each case was different and said it was looking for a diplomatic solution to keep the peace on the Korean peninsula.

In related developments, Iran brushed off US suggestions that two of its nuclear facilities might be used to build weapons, saying its nuclear energy program was strictly for civilian use. In the Iraqi capital Baghdad, UN weapons experts searched a missile plant.

US President George W. Bush, who in January branded North Korea, Iraq and Iran as members of an "axis of evil," made clear that Washington was not looking for a showdown with North Korea.

"Not every issue requires a potential military response. There's ways to keep the peace through diplomatic pressure, through alliance and that's what we're doing in the Korean peninsula," he said.

The US and its allies ratcheted up that pressure after North Korea said on Thursday that it would restart a reactor mothballed in 1994 after an international crisis over alleged production of weapons-grade plutonium there.

North Korea's latest move -- which it said had been forced on it by a US-led decision to suspend oil aid -- had the trappings of an attempt to force Washington to the negotiating table.

The crisis is the second this week to involve North Korea following the interception of a North Korean ship carrying Scud missiles for Yemen in the Arabian Sea on Monday. Yesterday, North Korea demanded a US apology for "unpardonable piracy."

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in Australia, echoed Bush's line.

"We believe that the situation on the Korean Peninsula lends itself to the possibility of a diplomatic solution given that the nations in the immediate area, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea and the United States, all share absolutely the same view that the peninsula must be denuclearized," he said in Sydney.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said North Korea's statement "flies in the face of international consensus that the North Korean regime must fulfil all its commitments, in particular dismantle its nuclear weapons program."

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