- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

12:02 p.m.

The White House said today that North Korea’s missile tests were a rebuff of international demands to stop its nuclear weapons program and did not set up a standoff between Washington and Pyongyang.

“This is not a U.S.-North Korea matter and we’re not going to let the leader of North Korea transform it into that,” White House press secretary Tony Snow said, reiterating America’s desire for multilateral - not one-on-one diplomacy - with the reclusive communist nation.

He said that North Korea could test fire a few more short- to medium-range missiles on top of the seven already fired, “but honestly we don’t know what to expect.”

The United States and Japan asked the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency session today, but Mr. Snow declined to disclose details about options the United States might be considering.

“I’m not going to share proposals,” he said. “There will be something forthcoming, and it will not be simply a U.S. proposal, but it will be reflective of the five other parties in the six party talks. Absolutely.”

The test-firings of seven missiles - including a long-range missile designed to reach U.S. soil - began as America celebrated the Fourth of July. It raised the stakes in a nuclear crisis and pressured the U.S. and its partners to penalize Pyongyang. North Korea fired a seventh missile early Wednesday, after the initial round of world reaction.

There is a high degree of uncertainty within the administration about the situation.

“It’s very difficult to ascertain precisely what’s going on,” Mr. Snow said. He said President Bush attended a National Security Council meeting this morning, but said that session was focused on Cuba, not North Korea. The missile issue was covered in the president’s intelligence briefing, he indicated.

Mr. Snow said the U.S. Northern Command, responsible for defending U.S. territory, has concluded with a high degree of confidence that North Korea’s test of the long-range Taepodong-2, believed capable of reaching American soil, failed within a minute after liftoff, and was not aborted.

“The failure of the Taepodong shows their missile talk is greater than their capability,” said Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, who urged sustained diplomacy to defuse rising tensions.

The White House said that regardless of whether the series of launches occurred as planned, they demonstrate North Korea’s intent to intimidate other states by developing missiles of increasingly longer ranges. The administration urged North Korea to refrain from further provocative acts, including further ballistic missile launches. The challenge for Bush is to mobilize international support for penalizing the North Koreans. The United States and several of North Korea’s neighbors had issued stern warnings, saying a missile test would mean further isolation and sanctions.

The United States, Japan, Russia, China and South Korea have been involved in so-called six-party talks on the issue. Snow said the challenge now is to figure out a diplomatic way to get North Korea to rejoin the six-party talks, which have been stalled since North Korea boycotted them in September.

Sen. Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, called the testing an ill-advised move by “an incredibly immature regime in the North.”

“I’m not concerned immediately about their nuclear capability or anything coming close to reaching the United States in this decade and maybe beyond,” Mr. Biden, D-Del., told CBS News. “But I do think they’re so irrational … that they may play a game of rinksmanship.” The White House said the United States would continue to take all necessary measures to protect itself and its allies, yet further diplomacy, not military action, appeared to be the preferred course of action.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state, began urgent telephone diplomacy on Tuesday with their counterparts in Japan, China, Russia and South Korea. Hill was being dispatched to the region for new rounds of discussions. And national security adviser Stephen Hadley was meeting today with his South Korean counterpart, a session now dominated by the tests. Bush, who was at the White House with family and friends gathered to celebrate the Fourth of July and his 60th birthday tomorrow, was notified of the test firings, and consulted with Ms. Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

“It wasn’t that he (the president) was surprised because we’ve seen this coming for a while,” Mr. Hadley said. “I think his instinct is that this just shows the defiance of the international community by North Korea.”

The test-firings, however, present a weighty national security challenge for Mr. Bush. The president named North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, in his “axis of evil,” yet has focused most of his attention on the later two nations even though Pyongyang claims it

already has nuclear weapons.

“The American officials have said that if the North Koreans proceed with a test, there are going to be consequences,” said Robert Einhorn, former assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation in the Clinton administration and chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea from 1996 to 2000. “If there aren’t consequences, the Bush administration is going to look like a paper tiger.”

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