- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

BEIJING — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that the United States would seek “other options” to resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff if Pyongyang continues to reject negotiations, hinting at economic sanctions and other penalties.

Miss Rice also pressed China to persuade the North to come back to six-nation talks on its nuclear-weapons program.

“It goes without saying that, to the degree that a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula gets more difficult to achieve, if the North does not recognize that it needs to do that, then of course we’ll have to look at other options,” she said.

Miss Rice spoke more forcefully than she has in the past about alternatives, in what U.S. officials indicated was a negotiating tactic.

She declined to be specific.

“Obviously, everyone is aware that there are other options in the international system,” she said.

Those options include referral to the U.N. Security Council for economic and trade sanctions, as well as imposing bilateral travel restrictions on North Korean officials. U.S. officials have said military measures are unlikely but have declined to rule them out.

North Korea pulled out of the six-way talks hosted by China last year and later announced that it had built nuclear weapons.

But in a sign that diplomatic pressure is building, North Korean Prime Minister Pak Pong-ju arrived here this morning for a six-day visit. Although the focus of Mr. Pak’s trip is economic relations, Chinese officials are expected to raise the nuclear question as well.

A South Korean newspaper also reported today that Beijing plans to send a new envoy to Pyongyang within two months in a last-ditch bid to revive the six-party talks.

A State Department official in Washington said yesterday that both President Bush and Miss Rice repeatedly have made clear that “when it comes to protecting national security, no option is off the table.”

“We have not ruled out other options, should North Korea refuse to return to the table,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is a long-standing problem, and we are not working under any artificial deadline,” the official said.

A senior State Department official traveling with the secretary said she had discussed “consideration of other diplomatic means” with Japanese and South Korean officials during the weekend.

Miss Rice, who spoke to reporters as she completed a 24-hour visit to China yesterday, sought to balance her discussions by requesting that her hosts use their influence on North Korea and raising thorny issues such as human rights and Chinese threats to use military force against the Republic of China (Taiwan).

During her stops in Tokyo and Seoul, she repeatedly sent signals to China and North Korea that Washington was serious about making the six-party talks a success.

North Korea has demanded that Miss Rice apologize for labeling it an “outpost of tyranny” — remarks made during her confirmation hearings — before it returns to the talks. Miss Rice has refused.

U.S. officials said Chinese President Hu Jintao told Miss Rice on Sunday that the Bush administration must show more “flexibility” in dealing with North Korea and tone down the rhetoric.

Miss Rice discussed concerns about human rights and political freedom with Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing yesterday.

At a solo press conference yesterday, she made extensive remarks about religious freedom.

“I do hope that there is an understanding that religious communities are not a threat to transitional societies,” she said. “In fact, they are very often … a source for good, for stability and for compassion in societies that are undergoing rapid change.”

Miss Rice also criticized China’s newly enacted anti-secession law that allows for military action against Taiwan if it declares independence.

“I said to my Chinese hosts that we would hope that … after having made dialogue across the Strait more difficult, that they would take steps to reduce tensions now with Taiwan,” she said.

The secretary returned to Washington last night and tomorrow will join Mr. Bush for a summit with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Mexican President Vicente Fox in Texas.

• Sharon Behn contributed to this report from Washington.

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