WASHINGTON — The Bush administration hopes to persuade Asian allies to deprive North Korea of hard currency, other economic assistance and international goodwill until it agrees to end the production of nuclear weapons and submit to arms inspections, U.S. officials and analysts said Sunday.
A temporary halt in the construction of two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea, being built under a 1994 agreement with the United States, is also under consideration, the Japanese media reported Sunday. U.S. officials could not be reached to confirm that report.
President Bush will try to ratchet up pressure on North Korea this week during a meeting at his Texas ranch with Chinese President Jiang Zemin and in Mexico, at the annual summit of 21 Asian and Pacific powers.
The goal is a unified diplomatic strategy that will avoid a military showdown with heavily armed North Korea, as threatened to happen in 1994. The administration is hoping to get North Korea's neighbors, aid donors and political interlocutors to jointly warn of the potential dangers if it continues to develop nuclear weapons.
"We are now looking at what should be the consequences of their actions, and we will act step by step after we have had a chance to fully consult with our friends and allies. And we have an opportunity to do that this coming week at the APEC meetings in Mexico," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Sunday. APEC is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which, since its founding in 1989, has increasingly also become a major political grouping.
Powell and other senior administration officials blitzed the Sunday morning television talk shows in an effort to explain why the U.S. is emphasizing diplomacy in its approach to North Korea's admitted rogue weapons program even as it gears up for possible war with Iraq over that nation's alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
But with an eye on the coming push in the United Nations for a tough resolution on Iraq, Powell also stepped back from the administration's public insistence that the ultimate goal is to replace Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime.
"The principal offense here is weapons of mass destruction, and that's what this [U.N.] resolution is working on," Powell said in an interview on NBC television. "The major issue before us is disarmament."
Even as Powell acknowledged that North Korea had nullified the arms pact that ended the 1994 crisis, he stressed in several Sunday morning television appearances that the administration wants a diplomatic solution.
"We have no military plans on the table right now for such an invasion of North Korea," Powell said. Iraq and North Korea, he said, are not "identical situations. They're quite different." North Korea is "a broken economy without access to resources the way Saddam Hussein has access to resources. We have different levers we can use with North Korea, quite different than the levers available to us with respect to Iraq," Powell said in the NBC interview.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice echoed those comments Sunday.
"We're not going to have cookie-cutter foreign policy where we try to apply the same formula to every case. It would be foolhardy to do that," Rice said on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."
Powell also revealed that the U.S. has received assurances from Pakistan, a nuclear power, that it is no longer providing assistance or vital materiel to the regime of Kim Jong Il. In a telephone conversation Thursday, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf assured Powell "400%" that his government was not currently facilitating North Korea's program, the secretary said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Administration officials said last week that Pakistan was believed to have supplied components to North Korea for a secret uranium-enrichment program; the North Koreans admitted to the program during talks early this month in their capital, Pyongyang, with U.S. officials. China and Russia also have been mentioned as possible suppliers. Asian and Pacific nations -- particularly the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea -- hold the keys to ending North Korea's isolation. And the Bush administration is eager for them to deliver a clear message to Pyongyang that "giving up its weapons program is the price of admission to rejoin the world. We control its hopes for the future, and we can hold those hopes hostage," a senior State Department official said Sunday.
China is especially crucial because it is North Korea's most important trading partner, while Beijing's Communist leadership has the closest political ties with Pyongyang's Stalinist regime.
The role of Japan, which tried to engage in rapprochement during a landmark visit by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sept. 17, also will be critical during scheduled talks with North Korea next week. The U.S. wants Japan to deliver a tough message, despite Tokyo's push to establish full diplomatic relations with North Korea.