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Bush, Jiang Discuss N. Korean Decision to Withdraw from Nuclear Treaty - 2003-01-10

President Bush and Chinese leader Jiang Zemin Friday discussed North Korea's decision to withdraw from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, as the U.S. State Department condemned the North Korean action. The State Department called the decision "a serious challenge" to the international community. North Korea says any U.N. sanctions in response to the move would be considered an "act of war."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says President Bush and President Jiang agreed to continue to work together to help insure peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

He says President Bush told the Chinese leader that North Korea's decision to withdraw from the nonproliferation treaty binds the international community in what he called, a 'common purpose,' to convince Pyongyang to give-up its nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Fleischer says the president stressed that the United States has no hostile intentions toward North Korea and seeks a peaceful, multilateral solution to the crisis.

China's official news agency says President Jiang told Mr. Bush that China disagrees with North Korea's decision and will work for what it called "an early and peaceful settlement of the issue."

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney says North Korea's decision threatens to undermine decades of non-proliferation efforts and will only further isolate the country. "While not unexpected given North Korea's recent behavior, today's announcement is of serious concern to North Korea's neighbors and to the entire international community," said Dick Cheney.

Mr. Fleischer says North Korea continues to take what he calls "steps in the wrong direction" which hurt its own cause and the cause of the Korean people." He says Pyongyang's decision does not change the U.S. offer to open talks on dismantling nuclear weapons. But Mr. Fleischer says Washington will not negotiate with North Korea. "Their approach is that the worst they act the more they get, and that's an approach that this administration will not be a party to," he said.

North Korea's U.N. ambassador Pak Gil Yon says the U.S. offer to talk, but not negotiate, is not sincere. He says North Korea does not intend to build nuclear weapons but may consider doing so in the future depending on the actions of the United States. "Our nuclear activities will be confined, at this moment, purely for the peaceful purposes such as generation of electricity," said Ambassador Pak. "But the future developments will entirely depend on the attitude of the United States."

North Korea's withdrawal from the nonproliferation treaty follows a Monday ultimatum from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency to readmit nuclear inspectors expelled by Pyongyang last month. The decision further extends the scope of the crisis to include possible U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

Ambassador Pak said that would be a declaration of war. "We consider now, even now, any kind of economic sanctions to be taken by the Security Council of the United Nations against the DPRK is a declaration of war," he said.

North Korean officials met again Friday with former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson. Thursday, Mr. Richardson met with North Korea's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations in private talks in the southwest state of New Mexico, where Mr. Richardson is currently the governor.

The former Clinton administration official has a history of contacts with North Korean officials including the 1994 release of an American accused of spying in North Korea. "I want to be helpful," said Bill Richardson. "I don't know what the results of the talks will be."

Mr. Richardson's spokesman says the Democratic governor has not been asked to negotiate on behalf of the Bush administration and will report back to the State Department on what the North Koreans had to say.