- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

The White House yesterday rejected direct talks with North Korea, and President Bush said dictator Kim Jong-il had isolated himself from the rest of the world by attempting to fire a long-range missile that could strike the United States.

As international condemnation grew and the U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting, the president — in language more subdued than his words from last week that a missile launch would be “unacceptable” — said North Korea must abandon its nuclear ambitions and return to six-party talks.

“What these firings of the rockets has done is, they’ve isolated themselves further, and that’s sad for the people of North Korea,” Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office after a meeting with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

“The five of us — Russia, South Korea, Japan, China, and the United States — spoke with one voice about the rocket launches, and we will work together to continue to remind the leader of North Korea that there is a better way forward for his people,” he said. “I also strongly believe that it is much more effective to have more than one nation dealing with North Korea. It’s more effective for them to hear from a group of nations rather than one nation.”

The White House said yesterday that it did not know whether the missiles carried any payload. Department of Defense officials told The Washington Times that there were no indications the missiles carried warheads.

White House press secretary Tony Snow went further in supporting the U.S. insistence on multilateral talks and rejection of one-on-one diplomacy, despite some calls yesterday from Congress for bilateral talks.

“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,” he said. “If it was the desire of Kim Jong-il to turn this into a two-party negotiation or standoff between the United States and North Korea, he blew it.”

Mr. Bush was dismissive of the launch of the Taepodong-2 missile that failed 42 seconds after liftoff Tuesday.

“One thing we have learned is that the rocket didn’t stay up very long and tumbled into the sea,” he said.

But Mr. Bush said that the failure “doesn’t, frankly, diminish my desire to solve this problem.”

“I view this as an opportunity to remind the international community that we must work together to continue to work hard to convince the North Korean leader to give up any weapons programs. They’ve agreed to do that in the past, and we will hold them to account,” he said.

Despite the administration’s dismissal of bilateral talks, Mr. Snow played down the significance of the tests themselves.

“There are attempts to try to describe this almost in breathless World War III terms. This is not such a situation,” he said.

The president said his top national-security officials and U.S. diplomats were working with other nations to try to persuade North Korea to return to the negotiating table.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said earlier in the day that global outrage showed “it is now not a matter of the United States and North Korea.”

“I can’t really judge the motivations of the North Korean regime; I wouldn’t begin to try,” Miss Rice told reporters.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill left last night for Beijing and will have talks later with officials in South Korea, Japan and Russia.

Mr. Bush spoke with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and, according to Mr. Roh’s spokesman, agreed to “consult closely to resolve the issue through diplomatic efforts.”

According to a White House statement last night, Mr. Bush thanked both Mr. Roh and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, with whom he also spoke by phone, for their strong statements condemning the North’s launching of missiles.

Meanwhile, the United States and Japan yesterday asked the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency session, but Mr. Snow declined to disclose details about options the United States might be considering. John R. Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the world body, said the council must send a “strong and unanimous signal” that North Korea’s missile tests were unacceptable.

Japan said it was considering penalties against North Korea in a U.N. resolution that would condemn the North and call for a return to six-party talks on its nuclear program. China and Russia, however, said they favored a weaker statement.

The firing of seven missiles — including a long-range missile that can reach U.S. soil — began as America celebrated Independence Day. 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 yesterday, after the initial round of world reaction.

cBill Gertz contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire-service reports.

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