U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is appealing for North Korea not to give up on multi-lateral disarmament talks. He issued his reaction in London, where he got strong government backing for his leadership despite a major U.N. scandal under his watch.
Mr. Annan says he hopes North Korea's announcement that it has nuclear weapons and will no longer participate in talks on disarmament is not what he calls "a definitive position."
Mr. Annan notes that he has a special envoy in the East Asian region trying to revive the six-party negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program. He says the other parties to the talks, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States, should persuade North Korea to re-engage.
"I expect that with efforts by the other countries involved North Korea could be brought back to the table so I would urge them to engage North Korea and bring them back to the table and for the talks to resume as quickly as possible," he said.
Appearing with Mr. Annan was British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who had a blunter message for the North Koreans.
"It would be a major mistake by the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] were they to go down this route," said Mr. Straw.
The North Korean foreign ministry says its announcement was prompted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent statement that North Korea is an "outpost of tyranny."
Reacting to Pyongyang's announcement, Ms. Rice said the United States does not intend to attack North Korea, which she says now faces only more isolation.
Mr. Annan was in London for talks with Mr. Straw and Prime Minister Tony Blair, and he attended a seminar on U.N. reforms.
In a speech before the seminar, Mr. Blair gave a ringing endorsement to the beleaguered Mr. Annan, who has been heavily criticized over the bribe-and-kickback scandals in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program for Iraq.
"It's been a tough time in the international community, and its been a very tough time for the United Nations secretary-general," said Mr. Blair. "I happen to think in that very tough time that he has handled himself with very great distinction, with a lot of wisdom, and in difficult circumstances has been a tremendous unifier. And I know very well it has not always been easy for him, politically or personally."
Mr. Annan told reporters he intends to get to the bottom of the problems in the oil-for-food program and promises the investigation will not be what he called "a whitewash."
U.S. congressional committees are looking into possible corruption in the U.N.-run program, which allowed Saddam Hussein's Iraq to sell oil and buy food for public distribution.
An interim report from a U.N. investigation led by former U.S. central bank chief Paul Volker faulted U.N. management for the scandal, adding to the clouds over Mr. Annan's leadership.