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U.S.: Powell Urges North Korea To Reverse Nuclear Decisions

  • Jeffrey Donovan

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Japan's foreign and defense ministers in Washington yesterday to discuss ways to defuse a worsening nuclear crisis with North Korea.

Washington, 17 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, seeking to calm rising nuclear tensions on the divided Korean peninsula, says Washington has no plans to attack North Korea.

With tensions rising and Pyongyang's state-run media speculating about a possible military showdown with America, Powell met yesterday in Washington with Japan's foreign and defense ministers. U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz joined the talks.

In a joint written statement, the officials expressed grave concerns "about the threat that North Korea continues to pose to regional security and stability." They urged Pyongyang to back down from recent decisions on nuclear policy, saying they violate numerous international agreements.

Last week, Pyongyang announced it will reactivate a nuclear facility the U.S. believes can produce atomic weapons. In October, North Korea acknowledged it has a secret program to possibly build nuclear weapons.

At a news conference at the State Department, Powell said dialogue with North Korea could resume once it reverses the two decisions. "It is a difficult situation. It is a dangerous situation. And the way to get away from this situation, to step back from it, is for North Korea to comply with its obligations, under existing agreements, with respect to developing weapons of mass destruction."

Powell's demands on Korea were echoed by Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi of Japan. Japan is considered a prime target should North Korea ever opt to use its presumed nuclear missile capability.

Indeed, the joint statement also said that, in light of the North Korean ballistic-missile threat, Japan is giving serious consideration to developing a missile-defense system and would explore this option with the U.S.

Following North Korea's recent moves, Washington decided to halt shipments of much-needed heavy fuel oil it provided to poverty-stricken Pyongyang under a 1994 agreement that included a pledge by North Korea to halt its nuclear-weapons program.

Moreover, the U.S. -- the largest donor of food aid to North Korea -- also said it would tie its food assistance to Pyongyang to the communist country's willingness to let international workers monitor its distribution.

Those developments raise the specter of possible famine in North Korea this winter -- and heightened political tensions on the peninsula, which has been divided since 1953 by the world's most militarized border. Washington has 37,000 troops in South Korea.

North Korea yesterday accused the U.S. of trying to politicize the issue of humanitarian aid, at a time when the United Nations has made an emergency appeal for more than $200 million in aid to feed starving North Koreans. "This can never be justified, as it is a U.S. attempt to misuse noble humanitarianism for attaining its sinister political aim," a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

But Powell blamed North Korea for both the rising tensions and the humanitarian crisis. And he rejected any talk of war, as the North Korean media have speculated. "The United States has no plans to attack North Korea. And I see no indication that North Korea, however concerned it might be, is taking any action that would suggest we are on the verge of war from them attacking south."

But Powell said the U.S. rejects signing a nonaggression treaty with North Korea, as Pyongyang has demanded. He said such a treaty would simply reward Pyongyang for its recent bad decisions.

As for humanitarian assistance, Powell said Pyongyang should take steps to feed its people and improve their lives rather than build nuclear weapons in violation of international agreements.

Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz said the world is ready to help North Korea, provided it changes its behavior. "It should be obvious that the real threat to North Korea's security comes from the collapsing state of its economy, and that the world -- including both the United States and Japan -- have made it clear, amply clear, our willingness to assist in that recovery if North Korea will honor the commitments it's already made and get rid of weapons of mass destruction."

Powell said the U.S. will not bargain with North Korea in response to threats or broken promises. He said North Korea -- which U.S. President George W. Bush says is part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq -- must live up to agreements it has signed on its own. Once it does so, Powell said, the U.S. will be ready to move forward and improve relations with North Korea.

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