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US Applauds IAEA Decision on North Korea - 2003-02-12

The White House Wednesday welcomed the decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons program to the U.N. Security Council. North Korea says it will consider any possible U.N. sanctions as an "act of war."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the decision by the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency is a "clear indication" that the international community will not accept a North Korean nuclear weapons program. "We are pleased that a broad cross-section of nations, including China, France, and the United Kingdom voted to find North Korea in violation of its international obligations and to report this matter to the United Nations Security Council," he said.

Russia and Cuba abstained from the vote by the agency's board of governors which declared Pyongyang in non-compliance with international nuclear safeguards after the government expelled U.N. inspectors and restarted a nuclear plant closed since 1994.

The Bush Administration says North Korea could use that reactor to help make nuclear weapons. Pyongyang says it is generating electricity.

Mr. Fleischer says Tuesday's vote demonstrates that this is not a bilateral issue between the United States and North Korea but is a dispute between North Korea and the international community. "The United States seeks a multilateral solution to this program through diplomacy," he said. "We plan to work closely with members of the Security Council and other friends and allies toward our shared objective of the elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program in a verifiable and irreversible manner."

The head of the U.N. nuclear agency Mohamed ElBaradei says North Korea is setting a dangerous precedent by withdrawing from a treaty establishing international safeguards, but adds he is still hopeful the crisis can be resolved peacefully.

Unlike Iraq, where the Bush Administration is threatening military action to disarm the country, Mr. Fleischer says Washington is pursuing a diplomatic approach with North Korea because it does not have Iraq's history of defying more than a decade of U.N. resolutions.

North Korea says the president's interest in diplomacy is a "smokescreen," meant to entice Pyongyang to drop its guard, while Washington readies an invasion. U.S. defense officials say they are considering reinforcing U.S. troops in the Pacific as a warning to Pyongyang, but deny they have any plans to attack.