- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 (UPI) — The United States on Monday welcomed a decision by the U.N. nuclear agency to report North Korea's defiance to the Security Council if it does not abandon plans to reactivate its nuclear program.

The reporting could lead to a punitive action against North Korea by the world body, such as re-imposing economic sanctions, which could seriously hurt this already impoverished communist nation.

"What's happening here is you see the world coming together, and the nations involved in this decision today are very broad — it's not only China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and the United States that is troubled by North Korea's unilateralist actions," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

"The nations that made up the board that voted in Vienna (Austria) today include Australia, Malaysia, Iran, Cuba. It takes a lot of work to get condemned by Iran and Cuba, and North Korea has done it."

North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors last month and began reactivating an idled, plutonium-producing nuclear complex that experts say could produce weapons within months. The Yongbyon reactors were mothballed under a 1994 agreement with Washington in return for fuel and other aid.

North Korea is believed by U.S. intelligence agencies to already possess one or two nuclear weapons.

The decision to censure North Korea "reflects a much broader international concern" on this issue, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf told reporters in Washington.

In Vienna, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, held a board meeting Monday to consider the consequences of the North Korean action.

The meeting deplored North Korea's expulsion of U.N. inspectors and called on North Korea to comply with its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"I hope the North Koreans seize this opportunity," said IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei while explaining why the agency postponed its decision to report North Korea to the Security Council.

"Compliance and not defiance is the way toward a solution," ElBaradei told reporters after an emergency session of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors.

But ElBaradei did not set a deadline for compliance. Nor did he explain how the agency would compel North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and allow U.N. inspectors to return to the Yongbyon nuclear complex.

The United States, however, welcomed IAEA's warning as reflecting the consensus of a wide range of international opinions. "This says exactly what we hoped it would say," said Wolf, adding that the remarks made in Vienna reflect the concerns of 35 countries with divergent views.

Wolf said the IAEA would not refer the case of North Korea to the Security Council until ElBaradei reports back to the IAEA board on whether North Korea has decided to comply with its demands.

The Vienna meeting kicked off a week of intense diplomatic activity on North Korea. Senior officials from the United States, Japan and South Korea are holding talks in Washington on Monday and Tuesday to take a joint stand on the issue.

Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is representing the United States in these talks. South Korea has sent its Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae-shik while a Foreign Ministry official, Mitoji Yabunaka, is representing Japan. The meeting is expected to issue a statement on Tuesday on a joint strategy to deal with the situation, State Department officials said.

South Korea is also sending a presidential envoy, Yim Sung-joon, to Washington this week for talks with White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

The South Koreans are urging the United States to guarantee North Korea's security and resume oil supplies to Pyongyang if the North accepts the demand for scrapping its nuclear program.

Pyongyang says that energy needs and security threats from the United States forced it to consider reactivating its nuclear program.

North Korea admitted in October to having violated the 1994 Agreed Framework accord with the United States by embarking on an illicit uranium enrichment program. The framework, it said, was null.

When the United States and others cut fuel supplies in retaliation, Pyongyang then accused Washington of having violated the accord and said the United States planned to attack it.

"Well, first of all, I went to (South) Korea and clearly said that

the United States has no intention of invading North Korea," President George W. Bush said Monday. "I said that right there in South Korea. And in Kim Jong Il's neighborhood, I spoke as clearly as

I said, and said we won't invade you.

"And I'll repeat that: We have no intention of invading North Korea.

"We expect North Korea to adhere to her obligations," Bush said prior to a Cabinet meeting at the White House. "She's (North Korea is) in an agreement with the United States; she said that she would not develop nuclear weapons. And we expect people to keep their word.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said the North had been secretly working on its nuclear program for some time. He also said that the North was trying to reactivate its nuclear weapons program and was not reopening the facilities for producing energy.

At a briefing at the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher refused to comment on South Korean compromise plans to defuse the crisis.

"There have been too many versions in the press out there of what the South Koreans may or may not have in mind," he said.

"We owe it to them as our partners in this endeavor to listen to them, to talk to them, to work with them on these ideas more directly," he added.

He was backed by White House spokesman Fleischer, who told a separate briefing that Washington would prefer to comment on the proposals on Tuesday, "after we've had a chance to really talk to them."

"South Korea's offers are always appreciated, and we'll work together," said Fleischer when reporters sought his comments on South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun's offer to mediate in the crisis.

South Korea is also seeking a written guarantee from the United States that it would not attack the North, but has not endorsed Pyongyang's call for a non-aggression pact with the United States.

North Korea, where there is widespread hunger, has about 1 million soldiers, mainly on the border with South Korea. The South Korean capital is only about 20 miles from the Demilitarized Zone, also known as the DMZ, well within North Korean artillery and missile range.

About 37,500 U.S. troops are based in South Korea, which the North invaded in 1950.

Boucher told a briefing last week that Washington was not interested in the non-aggression pact because it did not want to reopen the 1994 deal for negotiations.

Washington says that there can be no talks with Pyongyang until the North agrees to dismantle its nuclear projects and returns to the 1994 deal.

Under the 1994 Agreed Framework, the United States and its allies offered North Korea free fuel oil, two light-water nuclear reactors for power generation and improved relations in exchange for a freeze on activities at Yongbyon.

North Korea says it expelled international inspectors last month because of the stoppage of oil supplies. The Yongbyon facility, however, can produce only about 5 megawatts of power.

The State Department also has rejected the suggestion that the United States has been more accommodating in its response to North Korea's defiance than it has been to Iraq, which faces the threat of military action from Washington.

The confrontation with Washington couldn't have come at a more inconvenient time for the Bush administration, which is gearing up for a possible war against Iraq to force it to divest itself of suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Some 60,000 troops are in the Gulf, and the number is expected to double by the end of January.

Washington has opted for the diplomatic path with Pyongyang for the time being.

Iraq is a more immediate threat, it argues because of continued defiance of international mandates, the use of weapons of mass destruction on dissident Kurds, and it's aggressive behavior in the region.

"We will continue to work closely with South Korea, as well as Japan, and Russia and China on what all these neighboring countries agree is a threat to stability and security," Fleischer said of the confrontation with North Korea.

"We view this as an issue we need to work together on, shoulder to shoulder," Fleischer said.

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(Anwar Iqbal covers the State Department for UPI; Richard Tomkins covers the White House for UPI.)

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