The United States and its allies waged a joint diplomatic effort yesterday to prevent North Korea from proceeding with its decision to reactivate a nuclear reactor it shut down eight years ago.
But while South Korea agreed with Washington that there could be no business as usual with the reclusive state, Japan said it would continue its dialogue with Pyongyang.
President Bush got personally involved in the issue, which his administration would not describe as a crisis, by consulting with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in telephone conversation yesterday morning.
“President Kim noted that North Korea’s statement on unfreezing its nuclear program is unacceptable,” White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters. “And then the two leaders agreed to continue seeking a peaceful resolution while not allowing business as usual to continue with North Korea.”
But in Tokyo, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yasuo Fukuda, said his government would try to restart stalled talks with Pyongyang, because dialogue was even more important now that the security situation on the peninsula has worsened.
“It would not be desirable if dialogue between Japan and North Korea disappeared completely,” Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said at a news conference after a meeting with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Kim spoke one day after North Korea said it would restart a 5-megawatt nuclear power plant in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, and would resume building two larger reactors to compensate for its recent loss of monthly fuel-oil shipments from the United States.
The U.S.-led Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) last month suspended the oil shipments, after the North’s admission in early October that it had been developing a secret uranium-enrichment program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said North Korea had asked it to unseal and remove surveillance cameras from the plant, closed in 1994 after Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for free energy. That accord, known as the Agreed Framework, has in effect been nullified, even though neither side has officially declared it void.
The State Department said yesterday that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will host their Japanese counterparts, Mrs. Kawaguchi and Shigeru Ishiba, in a meeting of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee on Monday.
Mr. Powell also engaged in telephone diplomacy, speaking with the foreign ministers of Russia and China, Igor Ivanov and Tang Jiaxuan, as well as the EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.
“We have sent instructions to our ambassadors around the world to talk to other governments about this, and of course our mission in Vienna to the [IAEA] has been very active,” he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan echoed the White House’s statement, urging North Korea to respect the safeguards on its nuclear program and to not expel IAEA inspectors.
“I hope we will not get to the stage where they will kick out the inspectors,” he said. “I know there are hints about that, but I hope it doesn’t happen.”
This article is based in part on wire service reports.