- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2006

5:03 p.m.

TOKYO (AP) — The United States is willing to use its full military might to defend Japan in light of North Korea’s nuclear test, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today as she sought to assure Asian countries there is no need to jump into a nuclear arms race.

At her side, Ms. Rice’s Japanese counterpart drew a firm line against his nation developing a nuclear bomb.

The top U.S. diplomat said she reaffirmed President Bush’s pledge, made hours after North Korea’s Oct. 9 underground test blast, “that the United States has the will and the capability to meet the full range - and I underscore the full range - of its deterrent and security commitments to Japan.”

Ms. Rice spoke following discussions with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, the first stop on her crisis mission to respond to the threat posed by the North.

Signs continued today that North Korea might be readying for a second nuclear test that could be carried out as soon as this week, while Ms. Rice is in Asia.

There were reports that North Korea had told China it was ready to conduct up to three more nuclear tests. But at the State Department in Washington, spokesman Tom Casey said, “We certainly haven’t received any information from them, from the Chinese, that they’ve been told by Pyongyang that another test is imminent.”

In Seoul, South Korea, the country’s foreign minister - who has been selected to become the next secretary-general of the United Nations - warned the North not to detonate a second nuclear test.

“If North Korea conducts an additional test, the response of the international community will be much more serious,” he said, providing no further detail.

Ms. Rice’s reference to U.S. willingness to honor the “full range” of the nation’s security commitments was meant as a signal to allies that the United States does not want to see them embarking on a new nuclear arms race to protect themselves. It was also likely to be taken as a reminder to North Korea that, should it use nuclear weapons on a neighbor, the U.S. has powerful forces of its own - including nuclear - and is pledged to defend its friends in the region.

The United States is concerned that Japan, South Korea and perhaps Taiwan may want to develop their own nuclear weapons programs to counter a threat from North Korea. Such moves would anger China, which already has nuclear weapons, and raise tensions in the region.

North Korea contends it needs nuclear weapons to counter U.S. aggression. The United States has repeatedly said it does not intend to attack the North or topple its communist government.

The North has a standing army of about 1.2 million, with millions more in reserve, and a supply of missiles capable of reaching Asian cities. North and South Korea are technically still at war more than 50 years after the Korean conflict ended.

The U.S. has 29,500 troops stationed in South Korea, plus other air and naval forces in range. While the United States has no land-based nuclear weapons in Asia, it does have submarines equipped with nuclear weapons whose whereabouts are kept secret.

Japan, home to more than 35,000 U.S. troops, was Ms. Rice’s first stop on a four-day tour of Asia and Russia.

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