- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

The Bush administration denied yesterday that a rift has developed with key ally South Korea after outgoing President Kim Dae-jung said efforts to isolate North Korea in the current nuclear standoff were doomed.
U.S. efforts to manage the crisis took another blow late Sunday when Pyongyang announced it might pull out of the international nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the latest in a series of confrontational steps by the North to revive its nuclear-weapons program.
This morning, two U.N. nuclear inspectors expelled by Pyongyang arrived in China on their way to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. Mobbed by reporters at Beijing's Capital Airport, the inspectors, a Lebanese man and a Chinese woman, refused to comment on the situation at the Yongbyon nuclear plant, which they were monitoring.
The Bush administration has pressed North Korea's neighbors to isolate the impoverished Stalinist state, but Mr. Kim, who pioneered the "sunshine policy" of rapprochement with the North, bluntly said in a Cabinet meeting yesterday that the U.S. approach would not work.
"Pressuring and isolating communist countries has never been successful. Cuba is an example," said Mr. Kim, whose term ends in February. "Inducing such countries to open up through dialogue has always been successful."
White House and State Department officials attempted to patch over the differences, noting that both Mr. Kim and South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun has said that the North's nuclear brinkmanship is unacceptable.
"The international community is unified and is in agreement that North Korea's actions are a challenge to all responsible nations," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters in Crawford, Texas, where Mr. Bush is spending part of the holidays at his family ranch.
"And it has made clear that North Korea's relations with the outside world hinge on the elimination of its nuclear-weapons program," Mr. McClellan said.
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker also denied any divisions with Seoul over the North, saying the U.S. government was still pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
"I don't think anybody has suggested at this point imposing sanctions," Mr. Reeker said. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell "has not asked any nation to take economic action against this desperately poor country."
The latest crisis on the heavily armed Korean Peninsula began in October, when North Korea admitted that it had violated pledges made to the Clinton administration in 1994 not to develop new nuclear-weapons programs. As the United States has tried to rally countries in the region to force Pyongyang to reverse course, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has responded with a calculated escalation in the battle of wills.
Last week, the North began reactivating the plutonium-processing plant in Yongbyon, 55 miles north of the capital, which had been closed since 1994 and expelled the U.N. inspectors. Experts fear that the plant could quickly produce the material to allow the North to build several nuclear bombs.
The North maintains that it is the United States who first broke the 1994 agreement by not meeting deadlines for constructing an alternative civilian power plant to replace the North's nuclear program.
Analysts also speculate that the secretive North is trying to play up anti-American sentiments that were given wide airing during Mr. Roh's successful presidential campaign earlier this month.
But the North's efforts to divide its adversaries suffered a blow yesterday when Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov issued Moscow's most critical comment in the crisis to date.
"Pyongyang's recent decisions to send away [U.N.] inspectors and prepare for renewal of the uncontrolled work of its nuclear-energy complex cannot but elicit regret," Mr. Ivanov told reporters.
Earlier, Moscow had urged the Bush administration to take a less-confrontational line with North Korea, which President Bush has included with Iraq and Iran in his "axis of evil."
The Bush administration, which has been trying to focus world attention on the threat posed by Iraq, has been reluctant to match Pyongyang's rhetoric or respond to its threats in kind. Many in the U.S. government believe North Korea is using its nuclear program to blackmail the United States, South Korea and Japan into more concessions on aid for its collapsing economy.
Mr. Powell, who made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to address the North Korean question, denied that there was a "crisis" on the peninsula or that any U.S. military move was imminent.
The administration said it plans to present its case against North Korea to the U.N. Security Council. The IAEA will continue to be the lead international body on North Korea's nuclear violations for at least the next few weeks.

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