- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said yesterday that the United States should consider war if North Korea does not stop developing nuclear weapons, but President Bush expressed optimism that the four-power talks set for this week would defuse the standoff.
Interviewed yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, said he believes that military action "always has to be there as a very strong possibility" in dealing with North Korea and its nuclear program.
Mr. Lugar made that comment when asked by host Tim Russert whether he would advocate military action if "we wake up this summer" and North Korea is "on the verge of having six to eight more [nuclear] weapons."
In confirming that war may be necessary, the chairman said, "I say that fully cognizant of all the testimony we have heard of the potential ramifications for South Korea, for Japan, for our own American forces, for innocent American civilians who are in the Seoul area.
"But the proliferation of materials to make weapons as well as the weapons themselves and North Korea's reputation for producing them simply to obtain the "revenues for a failed state this is intolerable, and the North Koreans have to understand that."
In televised comments yesterday to reporters in Crawford, Texas, Mr. Bush seemed far more upbeat about the North Korea situation.
He said he thinks the United States, Japan, South Korea and China together have a "good chance of convincing North Korea to abandon her ambitions to develop nuclear arsenals."
The was uncertainty Friday about whether the multinational talks will be held after contradictory statements Pyongyang made about the reprocessing of spent fuel rods from the Yongbyon nuclear plant.
North Korea appeared to be announcing that it had taken steps that could yield six to eight nuclear bombs within months. But later, it was not clear whether the state-run news agency had announced that reprocessing had begun or whether there had been a faulty translation between versions of the report in English and Korean.
U.S. and South Korean officials told the Associated Press that after reviewing the versions, there was no proof that reprocessing spent fuel rods for weapons-grade plutonium was under way.
In his remarks yesterday, Mr. Bush singled out praise for China, saying he believes that country will play an important role in persuading North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons.
He said Beijing has confirmed that it is committed to a pledge that former President Jiang Zemin gave him "that China's policy is for a nuclear-weapons-free peninsula."
However, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said later that Mr. Bush's remarks about China should not be taken as an indication that the talks are still on. China was to be host to the negotiations.
On NBC, Mr. Lugar said he has been an advocate of getting together with North Korea for negotiations. Washington had rejected calls by Pyongyang that they meet one on one.
Mr. Lugar said he's pleased the talks are "going to happen" and that China will be involved. "It's important to find out what [the North Koreans] intend to do. Now if they tell us at these meetings they intend to build weapons, we've got to indicate upfront that is totally unsatisfying. I think that President Bush has made that clear."
South Korea and Japan want the talks to proceed. The United States is reported to still be deciding. "At this point, there is nothing new on the talks," State Department spokeswoman Brenda Greenberg told the AP yesterday.
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat and a member of that panel, discussed on "Fox News Sunday" the problems posed by North Korea.
"They're going to be a very difficult problem, but that's one of negotiation. There isn't any military option that we can threaten at this particular point," Mr. Roberts said.
He said he was pleased that China will take part in the talks with North Korea. "China's the key here, and China has made some significant changes here just recently in their attitude toward North Korea."
Mr. Bayh accused North Korea of blackmail, and he identified some other "provocative steps" that country might take to try to get its way.
"The commencement of reprocessing would be a significant threshold for them to cross," he said.
"If they do develop additional nuclear devices maybe six months down the road or so," Mr. Bayh predicted that North Korea could end up "testing one to develop its nuclear capability."
What's more, Mr. Bayh said, Pyongyang could also "launch a test flight of one of those three-stage rockets capable of hitting the United States.
"They might fire one of those in the Pacific."
Mr. Roberts initially said he thinks it's "probable" that North Korea would take both those actions but then revised that prediction to "possible."
Fox host Tony Snow asked Mr. Roberts whether North Korea is the "major security threat facing the United States right now."
"Without question," Mr. Roberts replied.

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