The Bush administration Monday denied shifting its policy on North Korea's nuclear program to focus on preventing that country from exporting nuclear weapons or material. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. goal remains the elimination of North Korea's weapons program.
The comments were prompted by a New York Times report Monday that the administration has tacitly accepted the North Korean weapons program, and has shifted its focus to organizing international support for blocking nuclear exports by that country.
In a talk with reporters after meeting here with NATO Secretary-General George Robertson, Secretary of State Powell said the United States does not want to see North Korea have a nuclear capability and that the view is shared by all of North Korea's neighbors and interested parties in the region.
"We will continue to work with our friends in the region Japan, South Korea, China, Russia, Australia and others - to have a solid front in making it clear to North Korea that it would be in their best interest to remove and eliminate all programs and facilities that they have that would lead to development of nuclear weapons," Mr. Powell said.
Mr. Powell said the United States was working multilaterally to prevent nuclear exports by Pyongyang, a matter of serious concern to the Bush administration given North Korea's record of selling other sensitive military technology including ballistic missiles.
The administration has sought to dissuade North Korea from pursuing its weapons drive through a combination of diplomatic pressure and incentives. In his appearance with the NATO chief, Mr. Powell said the economically strapped country can expect help from outside if it changes its behavior. "Better opportunities await them, support awaits them from nations in the region if they would simply begin acting in a more responsible way than they have in the past with respect to nuclear weapons programs, as well as proliferation activities and other activities of the regime, such as the drug trafficking that they do," he said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said later the administration is still examining the results of the three-way talks in Beijing late last month with North Korean and Chinese officials and has not yet decided what its next steps might be.
Mr. Powell has said that at the Beijing talks, North Korea offered to dismantle its nuclear program and possibly also end its missile activity in exchange for "considerable" concessions by the United States.
But the Bush administration has said it is not prepared to reward North Korea for coming into compliance with past agreements it has violated.
In an appearance on NBC television Sunday, Mr. Powell said the administration will not be intimidated or blackmailed and will not again enter into an agreement like the 1994 "Agreed Framework" that froze North Korea's nuclear efforts, but left it with the capacity to restart the program.