- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) — The United States Friday snubbed North Korea for saying that it was leaving the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and said such disrespect to an important international agreement cannot go "undealt with."

Despite this strong condemnation, the United States is still trying to convince the North Koreans not to reactivate their nuclear weapons program.

"The non-proliferation treaty is an important international agreement, and this kind of disrespect for such an agreement cannot go undealt with," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters in Washington. He said the United States would continue to work with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to "deal with these very difficult and important issues."

Last month, North Korea removed monitoring devices and U.N. inspectors from its nuclear facilities and said it was reactivating its nuclear weapons program.

The move caused an international outcry and the United States launched a campaign to persuade the communist regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Earlier of the United States, Japan and South Korea issued a joint statement, assuring North Korea that Washington does not intend to use force to resolve the dispute. The statement also urged North Korea to unconditionally give up its nuclear plan.

Following the joint statement, the North Korean delegation at the U.N. headquarters in New York contacted New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson for discussing various options for peacefully ending the crisis.

The talks in Santa Fe, N.M., began Thursday evening and continued on Friday as well, with both the sides keeping their cards close to their chests.

Powell said he has spoken to Richardson three times since Thursday night, when the North Korean delegation arrived in Santa Fe for talks.

He said the North Koreans approached Richardson and asked for a meeting because they had some ideas they wanted to put on the table. "Governor Richardson contacted us and I returned his calls and we discussed the matter and thought that it would be useful for him to hear whatever ideas the North Koreans had," said Powell.

"In order to not deprive ourselves of any useful information, we suggested to Governor Richardson, who has a past relationship with North Korea, it would be okay for him to go ahead, and we made it possible for the North Koreans to see him."

Powell said Richardson would call him after the meeting to give him a full report. "We will take that report into account as we move forward to see whether or not any new elements have been introduced into the equation."

Powell said the meeting was "a one-time shot for the governor" because "he is not an emissary … nor does he intend to be an envoy in this matter."

In Washington, Powell discussed the situation following the North Korean declaration to withdraw from the NPT with the IAEA Director General ElBaradei.

"The United States condemns … North Korea's action (to withdraw from the NPT) and finds it very, very unfortunate," Powell told reporters after the meeting.

He referred to an INAEA decision last Monday to give North Korea a chance to comply with its international obligations said it was unfortunate that instead of taking advantage of the offer, Pyongyang has "thumbed its nose at the international community."

"This is very regrettable. It's a sad statement on the part of the North Koreans of the respect in which they hold their own people. This makes it more difficult to find a solution," said Powell.

North Korea signed an agreement with the United States in 1994 that led to the freezing of its nuclear reactors in return for an end to international sanctions and resumption of free fuel oil from Washington.

Washington stopped the supplies last year following reports that North Korea was restarting its nuclear weapons program.

Last Monday, the IAEA board of governors of 35 nations unanimously agreed not to refer North Korea to the U.N. Security Council for punitive action and gave it another chance to abandon its nuclear program.

"We hope that the North Korean leadership will realize the folly of its actions, will realize that the international community and the United States will not be intimidated and we will continue to work for a peaceful solution, not only on behalf of the American people, but on behalf of the people of the world," said Powell.

Addressing the same briefing ElBaradei said that despite North Korea's decision to withdraw from the NPT, the international community was "going to give diplomacy some time to work."

"Ultimately, however, if it doesn't succeed, the matter will have to go to the Security Council," he warned, adding: "But I hope we will be able to defuse the situation before we have to go to the Security Council."

He said withdrawal from the NPT was a very serious issue as the treaty was a cornerstone of the whole nuclear arms control regime. "A country cannot just walk out without ramification because challenging the integrity of the nonproliferation regime is a matter that can affect international peace and security."

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