Saturday, May 24, 2003

President Bush yesterday threatened “tougher measures” against North Korea if it continues to develop nuclear weapons and condemned Pyongyang for kidnapping Japanese citizens.

“We will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea,” Mr. Bush said at a Texas news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. “We will not give in to blackmail.

“We will not settle for anything less than the complete, verifiable and irreversible elimination of North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program,” he said.

In his sternest warning since Pyongyang began flouting international agreements against nuclear weapons in recent months, Mr. Bush added: “Further escalation of the situation by North Korea will require tougher measures from the intelligence community.”

The president did not specify what those measures might entail. A senior administration official said the “strategic ambiguity” was intentional.

“Even if you assume that the North Koreans are not going to be helpful, there are various different ways in which they can not be helpful, calling out for different sorts of responses,” the official said. “So I guess my bottom line is, it’s too early to say.”

Meanwhile in Paris, the Group of Eight world powers yesterday urged North Korea to dismantle its nuclear-arms program rapidly and pressed Iran to offer more guarantees concerning its own nuclear ambitions

“The North Korean nuclear issue constitutes a threat to international peace and stability,” France said in a statement summing up the conclusions of a meeting of G-8 foreign ministers in Paris.

The G-8 statement also expressed worries about Iran. Ministers said Iran should allay these fears by signing a new protocol with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran insists its nuclear programs are purely to generate electricity.

The White House is particularly wary of Pyongyang’s pushing ahead with plans to reprocess spent fuel from nuclear-power plants for use in nuclear weapons. Also, there are fears of a missile launch toward Taiwan or a conventional military provocation against South Korea.

“Unfortunately, there’s a menu that the North Koreans could pick from,” the senior official said. “And it probably includes things that we here are not even thinking of right now.”

Still, the White House refused to say what North Korea would have to do to trigger “tougher measures” by the United States.

“We have consciously made a decision on the part of the U.S. government not to draw red lines,” the official said.

“The history of the past 15 years with the North Koreans shows that when they think somebody — and particularly the U.S. — has drawn a red line, they say: ‘Oh, let’s push up to that red line, let’s cross that red line, let’s see if we can provoke a response, let’s see if we can force the United States to rush to us to talk to us on our terms,’” the official added. “We don’t really want to go down that road.”

The CIA believes North Korea already has one or two nuclear weapons, and North Korea last month said during three-way talks in Beijing with the United States and China that it might test, sell or use its stated arsenal.

Mr. Bush yesterday called for five-way talks among the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea and Japan.

Mr. Koizumi repeated the president’s calls for “tougher measures” against North Korea.

“In any event, Japan will crack down more rigorously in illegal activities,” he said. “And the North Koreans will have to understand that threats and intimations will have no meaning whatsoever.

“It is extremely important for Japan to comprehensively resolve the various issues, including nuclear weapons, missiles and abduction.”

He was referring to the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean security forces, a practice that Mr. Bush publicly denounced yesterday for the first time.

“I strongly condemn the kidnapping of Japanese citizens by the North Koreans,” the president said.

On the Korean Peninsula yesterday, South Korea agreed to give North Korea 400,000 tons of rice after the two sides settled a dispute over a perceived threat from the communist North after recent U.S.-South Korean talks.

The two Koreas also agreed to connect their railways in mid-June inside the demilitarized zone, which has divided the Korean Peninsula for the past half-century, according to a joint statement from the South Korean government.

The rival neighbors opened talks on economic cooperation Tuesday in Pyongyang, but the meeting immediately stalled after North Korean delegates criticized last week’s summit between President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and warned of an “unspeakable disaster” for the South.

Setting aside economic issues, the Koreas haggled over the North Korean remark. The talks initially were scheduled to end Thursday.

South Korea saw the remark as a threat and demanded an explanation. The North resisted and instead demanded that the South explain the “further steps” Mr. Bush and Mr. Roh had agreed to consider if North Korea increases tensions over its nuclear programs.

North Korea accuses the United States of planning an invasion, although Mr. Bush and Mr. Roh repeatedly have said they prefer a peaceful settlement.

The dispute ended yesterday when chief North Korean delegate Pak Chang-ryon sought to ease South Korean ire.

By “unspeakable disaster,” Mr. Pak said he meant that “the North and South should not bring disasters onto each other by intensifying confrontation,” according to South Korean pool reports from Pyongyang.

The nuclear dispute flared in October, when U.S. officials said North Korea acknowledged that it had a clandestine nuclear program. Washington and its allies are trying to muster international pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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