British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday the North Korean nuclear crisis should be handled with special sensitivity rather than military threats because of a different history from Iraq's tussles with the UN.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, speaking to reporters after talks with Blair dominated by North Korea, said the standoff over the North's nuclear ambitions was more stable than six months ago and the views of those involved were converging.
"This issue does, indeed, have to be resolved. We cannot have a situation in which North Korea not merely continues to develop a nuclear weapons program but proliferates and exports that technology around the world," Blair said.
"So, this is a situation which, I think, has to be handled with a special sensitivity," he added, speaking in the gardens of Roh's presidential Blue House compound.
He said North Korea could be helped out of its shell and into the international community if it gave up its nuclear ambitions.
Blair flew in from Japan and was scheduled to leave later yesterday for Beijing, the next leg on his US and Asia tour.
His trip has been dramatically overshadowed by the suicide in Britain of a government adviser on Iraq's weapons.
Asked why he did not make the same threats of military action he made to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Blair said Iraq had a history over many years of UN resolutions being applied against it.
"The reason that we are talking in a different way about this issue is because there is not the same history," he said. "But I can assure you, there is the same sense of urgency."
Roh said Britain had a role to play because it is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a close US ally.
It also has an embassy in North Korea. Roh said six months ago tensions had been high on the divided peninsula.
"Everybody is emphasizing the peaceful resolution of this matter," he said through an interpreter. "I think all of the related parties are converging on this idea. So compared to six months ago, I think we are very much in a stable phase."
The nuclear crisis began last October when US officials said the North had said it had a covert nuclear programme.
US officials, confirming a New York Times report, said on Saturday North Korea may have built a second, secret plant to produce weapons-grade plutonium to help boost its atomic arsenal.
Blair and Roh did not address this latest twist at the news conference.
The North Korean news agency KCNA repeated rhetoric complaining about US military plans and accusing the US of violating the Armistice Agreement in place since the Korean War ended in a truce exactly 50 years ago on July 27.
Blair said it was the outcome and consequences of that war, in which Britain lost more than 1,000 men, that highlighted the stark contrast between North and South Korea today.
Blair, who invited Roh to visit Britain soon, said he backed the US aim for multilateral talks on the nuclear standoff, to include China, the US and North Korea and then South Korea and Japan.
Washington seeks multilateral talks, but Pyongyang has insisted on bilateral talks with the US, although there are signs that is changing.
China hosted talks between North Korea and the US in April, but no official talks have been held since.