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US: Pyongyang Must Reconsider its Plan to Expel UN Nuclear Monitors

The United States Friday called on North Korea to shut down its nuclear weapons program and to back off plans to expel U.N. monitors. Spokesmen said the Bush administration will not be pressured into negotiations by threats or broken commitments by Pyongyang.

Officials here say if Pyongyang is trying to force dialogue with its escalating series of nuclear steps, it is mistaken, and that in fact there is a growing international consensus against dealing with North Korea until it scraps its nuclear weapons ambitions.

North Korea's announcement Friday that it is expelling International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and reopening a reprocessing lab for weapons grade plutonium further raised the stakes in a crisis that began in October, when officials in Pyongyang acknowledged having a secret weapons program in contravention of the 1994 "agreed framework" with the United States.

In Texas, a spokesman for President Bush said the moves were another violation of its international obligations. He said the United States wants a peaceful resolution of the situation but will not respond to threats or broken commitments. The comments were echoed by State Department Philip Reeker, who told reporters North Korea can end its isolation only by rolling back its nuclear program.

"The international community is in agreement that North Korea's actions are a challenge to all responsible nations, and I think the international community has uniformly made clear that North Korea's relations with the outside world hinge on the elimination of its nuclear weapons program," stressed Mr. Reeker. "So, as we've said before, we seek a peaceful resolution to the situation that North Korea has created by pursuing a nuclear weapons program."

North Korea has announced a series of steps in recent days to reactivate a nuclear reactor complex at Yongbyon that had been frozen under the 1994 deal with Washington.

It says it needs to restore power output from the site because the United States and other parties administering the "agreed framework" shut off fuel oil supplies to North Korea last month.

However U.S. officials say electricity generated at Yongbyon will be negligible, and that its only real function would be to produce plutonium for weapons.

Officials say the Bush administration will continue to work with China, Russia, Japan and South Korea to bring pressure on Pyongyang to restore the status quo that existed before October, when the United States had been ready to discuss an upgraded relationship with the north.

They say Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly will likely be sent to the region early next month coordinate policy with U.S. allies, including leaders of the incoming South Korean government.

U.S. analysts have suggested that part of North Korea's motive in creating the current situation was to drive a wedge between the Bush administration and South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, who takes office February 25.

Mr. Roh, who staked his campaign on continued engagement with the north, is expected to pay his first visit to Washington to meet President Bush soon after his inauguration.