- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

The Bush administration yesterday dismissed a North Korean warning of a pre-emptive strike against U.S. forces and said the White House has "robust plans for any contingencies" on the Korean Peninsula.
A day after Pyongyang said it had reactivated its Yongbyon nuclear plant, North Korean Foreign Ministry Deputy Director Ri Pyong-gap was quoted as saying that "pre-emptive attacks are not the exclusive right of the United States."
The White House said such statements are nothing new and their only consequence is to further isolate the North.
"Obviously, the United States is very prepared for robust plans for any contingencies," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters. "But this type of talk and the type of actions North Korea has engaged in or says it's engaging in only hurt North Korea."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that President Bush has taken no options, including military ones, off the table, "although we have no intention of attacking … or invading North Korea."
The administration's handling of the nuclear standoff with the North came under sharp criticism by the committee's Democratic members, who labeled the policy "fuzzy" and one of "designed neglect."
Democrats accused the administration of not taking the threat that Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities pose seriously enough, in contrast to its preoccupation with Iraq.
Among the most vocal critics were Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a declared 2004 presidential candidate.
"Mr. President Bush, please, please, if you don't want to enunciate it, in your mind Mr. President, treat this as a crisis, because it is, if not contained now," Mr. Biden said.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Mr. Bush "should stop downplaying this threat, start paying more attention to it and immediately engage the North Koreans in direct talks."
Mr. Powell said he understood the senators' "anxiety," but said that "we can't find ourselves in a position of panicking." He added that "it is possible to achieve a diplomatic solution."
He rejected Mrs. Boxer's charge of a "policy of designed neglect," insisting that the administration's foreign policy was "geared to the problems we have in the 21st century."
The secretary, who presented the administration's case against Iraq to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, also noted that more time was spent discussing North Korea during his meetings in New York with the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers.
"We are deeply engaged in these issues," he said. "We are in touch with the North Koreans through a variety of channels."
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the United States is ready to confront North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's "terrorist regime" if necessary. North Korea, in turn, warned that any U.S. attack on nuclear facilities would "spark off a total war."
Mr. Powell promised yesterday to try to "lower the rhetoric."
He said Mr. Bush wants to help the North Koreans, "who are starving, who are in economic distress."
"But we have to find a way to do it that does not suggest to the North Koreans that we are doing it because they have this tool, this weapon, that they use nuclearization of the peninsula as a way to get us to do it because we are threatened by them," Mr. Powell said.
Although he expressed concern over the reactivation of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, the secretary pointed to a silver lining in recent developments. He noted that traffic has began moving between North and South Korea through one of the openings in the demilitarized zone, which is something "we have been working to achieve and to get worked out between the two sides."
The administration said last month that it is willing to talk, but not negotiate with the North, which withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It also wants the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council.
The IAEA plans to hold an emergency meeting on the issue at its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday. It is not expected to recommend economic sanctions, which Pyongyang has said would be equal to a "declaration of war."

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