- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 29, 2002

The Bush administration is prepared to dramatically intensify economic pressure on North Korea through Asian allies and the United Nations unless Pyongyang stops its nuclear weapons programs, U.S. officials said yesterday.
The strategy hinges on the belief of U.S. officials that North Korea's neighbors, so far unwilling to crack down on the communist regime, will grow impatient and nervous if the situation worsens.
After several days of escalating tensions, President Bush's advisers are pondering ways to confront North Korea with the prospect of economic collapse if it continues to seek new atomic weapons on top of the one or two Kim Jong-il's government already is believed to have.
Neither that ultimate goal nor the tactics themselves are dramatically different from the administration's approach since the fall. But administration officials, eager to show they're responding to North Korea's defiance, are recasting their approach with an emphasis on the economic impact of U.S. actions.
If North Korea does not change course, the administration could find it necessary to encourage neighboring countries to reduce economic ties with Pyongyang, officials said on the condition of anonymity. They said the administration is even considering asking South Korea to break all ties to the North if the situation does not improve.
After discussing the tentative plans yesterday, administration officials tried to soften the impact later in the day out of concern the Asian allies might feel they were being manipulated by the United States.
They emphasized in the subsequent interviews that it may well be that if North Korea continues to defy the international community, U.S. pressure won't be needed to spur the allies into action because they will want to crack down on North Korea on their own.
Officials said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell planned to announce today that Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly will visit the region in early January to sound out the countries involved and encourage a united front.
Lawmakers urged the administration yesterday to form a united front with North Korea's neighbors to pressure Pyongyang.
The administration also is quietly encouraging the U.N. monitoring agency to take the crisis to the Security Council, where economic sanctions could be threatened.
U.S. officials said they were not campaigning for the move overtly because they fear backlash from allies already dubious about Mr. Bush's use of the United Nations to pursue a tough line against Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Anyway, the officials said, some of the toughest talk on the situation already is coming from South Korea's new president, Roh Moo-hyun.
The U.S. policy reassessment came after North Korea announced in a flash of defiance Friday that it would expel U.N. nuclear inspectors and reopen a laboratory for the production of plutonium.
White House officials are trying to paint the dispute as North Korea versus the world, rather than Washington versus Pyongyang.

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