- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2006

President Bush yesterday called for an “immediate response” from the United Nations Security Council to North Korea’s assertion that it had tested a nuclear weapon, as Senate Democrats demanded that the administration engage in one-on-one talks with the nation’s increasingly belligerent leader, Kim Jong-il.

The White House rejected those calls, saying direct negotiations failed miserably during the Clinton administration and that the Bush administration plans to stick with six-party talks in an effort to persuade regional leaders, such as China, to apply pressure on North Korea.

“There’s strength in numbers,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Using carefully crafted diplomatic language, the president said in a brief statement yesterday morning that he spoke with the leaders of China, South Korea, Russia and Japan and that all agreed “that the proclaimed actions taken by North Korea are unacceptable.”

Mr. Bush stopped short of threatening a direct U.S. response, instead saying “the United States remains committed to diplomacy.”

“The United States condemns this provocative act. Once again, North Korea has defied the will of the international community, and the international community will respond,” he said.

He said the United States and its allies will keep all options open.

“I reaffirmed to our allies in the region, including South Korea and Japan, that the United States will meet the full range of our deterrent and security commitments,” he said.

Mr. Bush did not confirm that the North Korean test was nuclear, and early reports suggested that the blast may have been a failed nuclear test. “Nonetheless, such a claim itself constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” he said.

In New York, John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the United States would move quickly to seek a Security Council resolution condemning and possibly sanctioning North Korea.

“We’ve been working very, very closely with the government of Japan on this,” Mr. Bolton said. “We’re looking, as the president said in his comments, for very swift action by the Security Council.”

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, sought political advantage from the reported nuclear test.

“On North Korea, as in other national security policies, the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have made America less secure,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “Now the White House must rally the international community and must directly speak with the North Koreans so they understand we will not continue to stand on the sidelines.”

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, said: “We need a strategy that convinces the North to stop making bombs and put all of its fissile material under international monitoring. I believe that strategy must include direct engagement with the North.”

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said, “Weapons of mass destruction pointed at our allies and strategic partners represents a shocking failure of President Bush’s security policy, and a threat to the interests of peace and stability in the world.”

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, backed Mr. Bush. “It is critical that we support President Bush and our diplomats as they work with other members of the international community to demand North Korea’s immediate disarmament,” he said.

The reported test brings full circle the president’s charge in his 2002 State of the Union address when he labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea an “axis of evil.”

Mr. Snow said the White House has been considering a “menu” of punitive sanctions for several weeks, but he did not indicate what action would be taken.

Earlier yesterday, he said the North Koreans alerted the Chinese about the test. The Chinese then notified the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which passed the word to other U.S. officials.

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