- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 (UPI) — The United States will continue to consult with Japan, South Korea, China and Russia and stay the diplomatic course to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, President George W. Bush said Thursday.

"I believe the situation with North Korea will be resolved peacefully," Bush said to reporters at his ranch in Texas. "As I said, it's a diplomatic issue, not a military issue, and we're working all fronts.

" … We are working with friends and allies in the region to explain clearly to North Korea it's not in their nation's interest to develop and proliferate weapons of mass destruction."

North Korea last week announced it was resuming operations at its Yongbyon nuclear facility, which can produce weapons-grade plutonium, and was unsealing thousands of stockpiled fuel rods.

It also expelled arms inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was monitoring the shuttered plant and North Korean nuclear efforts.

The United States, which in 1994 agreed to help supply North Korea with thousands of tons of fuel oil in exchange for its closing the plant, believes the Pyongyang regime already possesses one or two nuclear weapons.

Opening the plant in the wake of its admission of violating that earlier agreement could give the country more nuclear weapons within 12 months.

North Korea, an isolated country, is starving. The international community, especially the United States, donates tons of food to the country each year through international organizations.

It maintains a well-fed army of about 1 million, however, with most troops deployed along the border with South Korea.

Food aid to the North continues, though fuel supplies were cut off late last year when Pyongyang admitted violating the 1994 pact and then declared it "null."

"The United States of America is the largest — one of the largest, if not the largest — donor of food to the North Korean people," Bush said. "And one of the reasons why the people are starving is because the leader of North Korea hasn't seen to it that their economy is strong or that they be fed.

"You know, we've got a great heart, but I have no heart for somebody who starves his folks."

The United States is demanding North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons development, but North Korea is demanding direct negotiations and a formal non-aggression pact. That, Washington says, would be giving into blackmail.

Bush said Thursday allies and others were pressuring Pyongyang though it may not be readily apparent.

In Beijing, South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae-shik and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks Thursday believed to have been about how to put more pressure on North Korea to end its weapons program.

The situation with North Korea contrasts sharply with that of Iraq, which Bush says must voluntarily divest itself of weapons of mass destruction or face a U.S.-led military coalition.

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