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U.S. Denies Split On N. Korea Policy

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by Philip Turner
Washington (UPI) June 6, 2005
The United States will continue to seek a diplomatic resolution with North Korea over its nuclear program despite comments over the weekend that Washington would take the issue to the U.N. Security Council, a senior U.S. State Department official said Monday.

"We have never said we're taking the issue to the U.N.," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told United Press International. "If North Korea refuses to come back to the table we will talk with other countries to find out what action to take."

Separately, U.S. envoy Joseph DiTrani and North Korean officials in New York Monday, said a State Department official, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

Similar talks were held May 13 in an attempt to restart multilateral talks on North Korea's nuclear capabilities.

North Korea has since last June refused to return to multilateral talks on its nuclear weapons program, demanding security guarantees and economic incentives. The Bush administration has urged Pyongyang to return, but has avoided saying it favors taking the issue to the United Nations.

On Saturday, however, a U.S. Defense Department official told reporters who were traveling with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the United States would decide whether or not to take North Korea to the Security Council during the "June-July period."

The State Department official dismissed those remarks.

"I think the president and the Secretary (of State Condoleezza Rice) speak for the United States, not an unnamed defense official -- I think we're going to continue seeking a diplomatic resolution," the official said.

Both Rumsfeld and Rice have also backed off those claims and have said there is no timetable.

"The idea that within weeks we are going to decide one way or another is a little forward-leaning," Rice said en route to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where she was attending a meeting of the Organization of American States. "The president put it very well the other day that we still believe that there is life left in the six-party talks" that also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

Still, Rice said the Security Council was always an option.

Rumsfeld echoed those comments in Bangkok Monday.

"The president has stated what the policy is, the secretary of state has stated it and I have stated it," he said. "And it's all exactly the same."

He said reports in the media to the contrary were "mischievous."

North Korea recently increased its production of fissile material to the point it can build an estimated six to eight nuclear weapons. In February, it said it had nuclear weapons and would continue to boycott six party talks until the United States agreed to bilateral talks. The Bush administration has rejected those demands but has said it will talk one-on-one in the context of the six-party talks.

Experts say the debate over the defense official's statement shows a lack of clarity over U.S. policy on North Korea.

Susan Rice, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a centrist Washington think tank who was assistant Secretary of State in the Clinton government, said the Bush administration had failed to reach a conclusion over what she called a threat of immediate importance.

"The administration is in the middle of a policy review and hasn't decided what action to take yet," she said.

Rice said both the State and Defense Departments were inconsistent on North Korea.

"Internal dispute and differences have marked the administration's policy on North Korea going back to 2002 and that is why there is policy inertia in the face of a very serious threat," she said.

The inconsistency of statements coming from the Bush administration is starting to become one of the only constants when talking about North Korea, said Charles Pritchard, a visiting fellow of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.

"What the unnamed senior defense official said is not inconsistent with what we've seen and heard in the past," he said, adding the denials by Rice and Rumsfeld were "technically correct but fundamentally deceiving" in that no firm decision has been made about what the next step is.

"Fundamentally, the next step is to go to the Security Council, but that is not necessarily required for a punitive decision to be made, which is where I think we're headed," he said.

North Korea has said any move by the Security Council that included sanctions would be tantamount to a declaration of war. With talks stalled and tensions seemingly mounting within the Bush administration, Pritchard said something will have to budge if North Korea refuses to return to the six-party talks.

"A consistent theme is that we're very frustrated and if no move is made soon we will pursue an alternative as the next step -- and that next step is to go to the Security Council," said Pritchard.

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Seoul (UPI) June 3, 2005
Before traveling to North Korea, South Koreans are educated never to fail to use an official title when they refer to its leader Kim Jong Il.

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