Sun, Dec 29, 2002 - Page 1 News List

S Korea works on plan to quell neighbor

REUTERS , SEOUL

South Korea outlined plans to intensify diplomatic pressure on North Korea yesterday, after its unpredictable communist neighbor said it would expel UN inspectors and press on with its nuclear program.

The US, keen to maintain its focus on Iraq, told North Korea it sought a peaceful end to the crisis on the world's last Cold War frontier, but insisted it would not negotiate under duress.

As Washington and its allies cast around for a way to stop the country restarting a reactor capable of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons, North Korea's enigmatic leader, Kim Jong-il, relaxed at a concert where an army choir praised him in song.

The Bush administration, banking on diplomacy to bring Kim back into line, said the impoverished country's relations with the outside world hinged on an end to its nuclear weapons program.

"The United States will not negotiate in response to threats or broken commitments," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said after China and Russia called for dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.

In Crawford, Texas, where US President George W. Bush is spending New Year at his ranch, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the use of force was not under consideration.

"We continue to seek a peaceful resolution of the situation ... ," McClellan said on Friday.

"We will continue our consultations with friends and allies."

Isolated since the end of the Cold War, North Korea has suffered economic collapse and food shortages that have killed two million people and left about a third of its 22 million population dependent on foreign food aid.

The North's Korean Central News Agency accused Washington on Friday of seeking to overthrow its political system. Yesterday it carried a report on Kim's concert.

"Kim Jong-il congratulated the artistes of the chorus ... and highly appreciated the feats they have performed in encouraging the army and people in their sacred struggle to defend the socialist system of the country," it said.

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