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THE WORLD | DIPLOMATIC STANDOFF

N. Korean Action Draws Global Condemnation

January 11, 2003|Sonni Efron and Lianne Hart | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The United States and a number of other governments Friday condemned North Korea's decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but President Bush remains committed to finding "a peaceful, multilateral solution" to the worsening standoff, his spokesman said.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency warned that North Korea must end its defiance of the international community in "a matter of weeks" or face action by the U.N. Security Council.

With tensions rising, two North Korean diplomats who had flown to Santa Fe on Thursday spent seven hours in private meetings with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who served in the Clinton administration as U.N. ambassador. The envoys unexpectedly announced that they would stay Friday night for a working dinner and continue their talks today.

Richardson described the talks as "frank and candid" and added, "My hope is at the end of the meetings there will be positive results, but I don't want to speculate there will be any breakthroughs." He did not provide details.

In public, however, North Korea used increasingly shrill rhetoric, warning in a fiery editorial in the official Korean Central News Agency that a new Korean war "will finally lead to a Third World War." Its U.N. ambassador gave a rare news conference Friday to declare that any sanctions imposed by the Security Council would be considered tantamount to a declaration of war.

But Ambassador Pak Gil Yon said that the country would not "at the moment" use its nuclear facilities for any purpose other than generating electricity and that the regime in Pyongyang might allow the United States to verify that it is not making nuclear weapons if Washington abandons what he called its hostile policies.

U.S. and international officials, as well as private nuclear policy experts, said the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is the cornerstone of the global security structure that allows nations to have civilian nuclear power programs without creating the fear among their neighbors that they are secretly producing nuclear weapons.

It would be especially destabilizing, they said, for North Korea to violate the treaty and then, when caught, to quit the international nonproliferation regime.

At the same time, the Bush administration faces a stiff challenge in finding ways to force Pyongyang back into compliance with the treaty or to punish it for dropping out.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell would not say how long the president will give his strategy of bringing international diplomatic pressure to bear on North Korea to produce results before bringing the problem before the Security Council.

"North Korea has decided that it wants to stick its finger in the eye of the world," Fleischer said, insisting that the nation must be made to see that its nuclear program is not a matter of conflict with the United States but the object of international opprobrium.

"North Korea has thumbed its nose at the international community," Powell said, adding, "The Nonproliferation Treaty is an important international agreement, and this kind of disrespect ... cannot go undealt with."

Powell called the standoff "a serious situation" but declined to describe it as a crisis.

"We're not going to be intimidated," he said. "We're not going to be put into a panic situation."

Fleischer said that North Korea has in the past tried to "gin up a crisis atmosphere" so as to extract concessions from the rest of the world. The U.S. has decided that the best response is steady diplomacy, he said.

Britain, France, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea all denounced North Korea's decision Friday, or called on the regime to reverse course. Australia, one of the few Western countries that has diplomatic relations with North Korea, said it would send a high-level delegation Tuesday to Pyongyang in an effort to defuse the crisis.

In Seoul, South Korean officials expressed disappointment that the North Koreans hadn't allowed enough time for any of the various diplomatic initiatives underway to work. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, meeting in Seoul with South Korean officials, suggested that the issue would probably need to go before the Security Council.

Bush had a 17-minute telephone conversation Friday with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who reiterated China's commitment to a non-nuclear Korean peninsula, the spokesman said. Powell has spoken with the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Japan and the European Union and has had three conversations with Richardson about the unorthodox visit by the North Koreans to the newly elected governor.

Richardson, acting in an unofficial capacity, held two hours of talks with Deputy Permanent U.N. Representative Han Song Ryol and his assistant, Mun Jong Chol, on Thursday night at the governor's mansion in Santa Fe. Five hours of talks followed on Friday.

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