- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska The Bush administration expressed concern yesterday that valuable time is passing in the nuclear standoff with North Korea but said that will not force a rush to the negotiating table.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who left yesterday on a trip to Japan, China and South Korea to prepare for multilateral talks with the North, told reporters on his plane that Pyongyang could take advantage of the time needed to resolve the issue by taking "further provocative action."
"Time is passing," Mr. Powell said in response to a question from The Washington Times. "At the same time, we are not going to let time become a weapon used against us … because of what [the North Koreans] might do tomorrow."
Senior U.S. officials have voiced concerns in the past weeks that the North, which withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty last month and restarted its Yongbyon reactor, could begin reprocessing spent fuel rods and produce plutonium.
Mr. Powell is expected to announce continued U.S. assistance to the starving nation during the trip to Japan, China and South Korea, but U.S. officials said Thursday that he will not make a specific commitment on aid.
Mr. Powell is looking to push efforts to prepare for multilateral talks with the North amid insistence by most regional powers on dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.
Ahead of Mr. Powell's visit, the U.S. ambassador in South Korea called yesterday for a united global stand on the 4-month-old crisis.
"Because other nations have much to lose from North Korea's dangerous actions, the challenge to regional and global peace and stability concerns us all," Thomas Hubbard, U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said during a speech in Seoul.
"It must be met by a combination of concerned states."
In a fillip for the United States, North Korea's first efforts to get a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Malaysia to support it fell embarrassingly flat.
Pyongyang, despite waiving self-imposed seclusion to send delegates, found itself aligned with no one as the 114-member group, working on a declaration, rejected its call to condemn Washington and instead urged it to curb its nuclear ambitions.
Mr. Powell visits Tokyo today, flies to Beijing tomorrow and then goes to Seoul.
South Korea's new president, Roh Moo-hyun, whose inauguration Mr. Powell will attend Tuesday, rules out using force with North Korea.
"The mere hint of war and the anxiety it entails can inflict great losses upon us," Mr. Roh said Thursday. "We do not want war or North Korea's collapse."
The latest crisis began in October, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted to pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program in violation of its international commitments.
It has escalated as Pyongyang expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, said it would pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and threatened to resume missile testing and abandon the 1953 Korean War armistice.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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