- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

1:29 p.m.

The Bush administration today again rejected direct talks with North Korea and said it would not be intimidated by a reported threat from Pyongyang that it could fire a nuclear-tipped missile unless the United States acts to resolve the standoff.

“This is the way North Korea typically negotiates — by threat and intimidation,” U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton said. “It’s worked for them before. It won’t work for them now.”

Meanwhile, the White House said there is a “remote possibility” that the world never will be able to fully determine whether North Korea succeeded in conducting a nuclear test yesterday. While acknowledging that the action was provocative, White House press secretary Tony Snow suggested that it’s possible that the test was something less than it appeared.

“You could have something that is very old and off-the-shelf here, as well, in which case they’ve dusted off something that is old and dormant,” Mr. Snow said.

While Democrats claimed the test was evidence of a failed U.S. policy, Mr. Snow argued that it has left the nations involved in the six-party negotiations with the communist regime more unified and determined to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions. He also denied that the demands of the war in Iraq hampered the Bush administration’s ability to dissuade North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.

“The Chinese, the South Koreans, the Japanese — they all have more direct leverage over the North Koreans than we do,” Mr. Snow said. “The people who have the greatest ability to influence behavior are now fully invested in equal partners in a process to deal with the government of North Korea.”

North Korea stepped up its threats, saying it could fire a nuclear-tipped missile unless the United States acts, the Yonhap news agency reported today from Beijing. But even if Pyongyang is confirmed to have nuclear weapons, specialists say it’s unlikely the North has a bomb design small and light enough to be mounted atop a missile.

Asked about the Yonhap report, Mr. Bolton said, “Well, I think it’s been perfectly obvious for quite some time that North Korea has been seeking a delivery capability for its nuclear weapons. It’s one reason why as far back as 2001, President Bush led the effort to get the United States out from under the restrictions of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, so we could build missile defense against precisely this kind of threat.”

In response to North Korea’s purported nuclear test, the United States is pressing at the United Nations for stringent sanctions on Pyongyang, including a trade ban on military and luxury items, the power to inspect all cargo entering or leaving the country, and freezing assets connected with its weapons programs.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Richardson, New Mexico Democrat, a former U.S. ambassador who has visited North Korea, said the Bush administration should abandon its long-standing refusal to engage in direct talks with North Korea. He said Mr. Bush was right to seek sanctions against North Korea at the United Nations but should next move to direct talks with the reclusive nation.

Mr. Richardson echoed the message of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who on Sunday urged the administration to talk directly to adversaries around the world.

Mr. Bolton, interviewed on CNN and on CBS’ “The Early Show,” said that if North Korea wanted to talk with the United States, it needed to rejoin the six-party talks.

“If they want to talk to us, all they have to do is buy a plane ticket to Beijing,” where the talks have been stalled for months, he said. “The North Koreans can talk to us any time they want on a bilateral basis if they come back to the six-party talks, which they have been boycotting.”

Asked about the possibility of U.S. military action against North Korea, including a possible naval blockade, Mr. Bolton said, “Well, we’re not at that point yet.”

“We keep the military option on the table because North Korea needs to know that, but President Bush has been very clear he wants this resolved peacefully and diplomatically,” he said.

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