- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

The United States yesterday condemned North Korea's decision to quit an international nuclear treaty, as the Stalinist state warned that any punitive sanctions would constitute a "declaration of war."
Both sides sharpened their rhetoric yesterday, with the United States refusing to accept Pyongyang's announcement that it was immediately withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and North Korea declaring that recent U.S. actions are tantamount to "openly declaring a nuclear war."
"North Korea has thumbed its nose at the international community," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said. "This is a very regrettable and sad statement on what they think of their own people."
But Mr. Powell said the United States will not be "intimidated" by North Korea's withdrawal from the nuclear treaty. The NPT, signed by 188 nations, is considered to be the cornerstone of international efforts to halt the spread of atomic weapons.
"We are not going to be put in a panic situation. We are going to work this deliberately," he said.
At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States "condemns this action by North Korea."
"It represents a further escalation of North Korea's defiance of the international consensus in support of a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons."
In Pyongyang, the official North Korean news agency said "a new Korean War will finally lead to the Third World War" and that the North could hold its own in a "fire-to-fire standoff."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, using somewhat softer language than the State Department, said: "I think it's fair to say that North Korea has decided that it wants to stick its finger in the eye of the world."
But President Bush considered the move serious enough to call Chinese President Jiang Zemin, speaking with the communist leader for 17 minutes about the growing belligerence of North Korea.
"They both agreed," Mr. Fleischer said, "that North Korea's announcement that it was withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty was a concern to the entire international community."
Mr. Bush told Mr. Jiang: "This binds us in a common purpose," and assured the leader the United States has no "hostile intent," the spokesman said. For his part, the Chinese president reiterated his nation's commitment to a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula.
While China's official Xinhua news agency said Mr. Jiang had disagreed with Pyongyang's move and was "concerned" about the withdrawal, he did not demand that Beijing's longtime ally reverse its stance.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney, the highest-level U.S. administration official to speak on the matter yesterday, said the withdrawal "is of serious concern to North Korea's neighbors and to the entire international community."
"Their actions threaten to undermine decades of non-proliferation efforts and only further isolate the regime," Mr. Cheney said.
Meanwhile, Pak Gil Yon, North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, said his nation pulled out of the treaty "due to the United States' vicious, hostile policy towards the Democratic People's Republic of Korea."
"It is none other than the United States which wrecks peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and drives the situation there to an extremely dangerous place."
Mr. Pak said the United States has made "nuclear war moves," beginning in January 2001, when Mr. Bush dubbed North Korea as part of an "axis of evil," thereby "openly declaring a nuclear war."
"The withdrawal from the NPT was originated from such a nuclear threat from the United States' side," Mr. Pak said.
Asked what North Korea's reaction will be if the withdrawal leads to U.N. punishment, such as the imposition of economic sanctions, he said: "Any kind of sanctions to be taken by the Security Council or anywhere, we will consider it as a declaration of war against the DPRK."
Mr. Pak, reading a statement from his government, blamed the International Atomic Energy Agency, a nuclear monitoring group he said is a puppet of the United States, for pushing the matter to the brink. A recent IAEA threat to seek U.N. sanctions "clearly proves that the IAEA still remains a servant and a spokesman for the United States."
Abandoning the treaty will legally end the IAEA's monitoring rights over North Korea's nuclear program. Pyongyang in recent weeks had made monitoring difficult by removing cameras and other safeguards from its nuclear facilities.
Mr. Pak also said the non-proliferation treaty "is being used as a tool for implementing the United States' hostile policy towards the DPRK, aimed to disarm it and destroy its system by force."
Mr. Boucher said Pyongyang's withdrawal is illegal, adding that North Korea could not abandon the treaty, which provides for international inspection, without giving 90 days' notice.
He said North Korea's decision to suspend its participation in the NPT a decade ago for 89 days and then its subsequent move to rejoin the accord did not count toward the 90-day period and allow for an immediate withdrawal. North Korea's foreign minister announced yesterday that the withdrawal takes effect today.
North Korea announced in October that it had carried out a nuclear program, a violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States. In that agreement, Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for U.S. shipments of oil and the building of two nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes.
The disclosure prompted the United States to cut off oil shipments, leading North Korea this month to eject nuclear inspectors.
In other developments:
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson held a second day of talks with two North Korean U.N. diplomats in Sante Fe, after Pyongyang sought contact with the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton administration.
Mr. Richardson, who said the talks were going well, briefed Mr. Powell on the discussions.
Britain, France, Russia, Germany and Sweden denounced North Korea's decision. Japan called on its regional neighbor to reverse course. Australia, a close U.S. ally, said it would send a diplomatic team to Pyongyang next week.
South Korea's ambassador to Washington said in an interview released yesterday that the United States and its allies could have given North Korea more time before suspending shipments of fuel oil.
IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said in Washington that North Korea had to take the first step to ease the crisis by renouncing its nuclear program, but could be rewarded with economic aid if it does.
France's ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, who is president of the Security Council for January, said yesterday that the body would likely discuss Pyongyang's withdrawal, possibly as early as Monday.

Betsy Pisik and Nicholas Kralev contributed to this report

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