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Powell: US Not Headed Toward War with N. Korea - 2003-06-10

Secretary of State Colin Powell says North Korea's latest statement on its nuclear weapons ambitions will not change the Bush administration's determination to resolve the issue through diplomacy. Mr. Powell spoke on the sidelines of an Organization of American States meeting in the Chilean capital, Santiago.

Mr. Powell says a nuclear-armed North Korea threatens the region and "will not be tolerated" but says it does not mean the United States is heading for war with Pyongyang. The Secretary spoke to reporters here after a statement by North Korea's official news agency Monday that was seen by some analysts as Pyongyang's most explicit statement to date that it is seeking nuclear weapons.

The North Korean announcement said the communist country wanted nuclear arms so it could cut its huge conventional forces and divert funds to its hard-pressed domestic economy.

At a news conference wrapping up talks with Chilean leaders and Latin American foreign ministers, Mr. Powell said the statement was not unlike past North Korean claims about its nuclear program and reprocessing of spent reactor fuel.

He said the United States continues to believe North Korea has a small number of nuclear weapons, and that the latest claim will not change the U.S. strategy for a diplomatic solution bringing together all concerned parties in the region:

"We will not accept a nuclearized [Korean] peninsula. This does not mean we are on our way to war. We are not. The President continues to believe there is an opportunity for a diplomatic solution, a political solution. But it's a solution that must come in a multilateral forum," said Mr. Powell. "We cannot allow North Korea to dictate to us who they will speak to on this issue, because too many nations are affected. They all have to be able to speak to this issue."

The United States, China and North Korea held an initial set of three-way talks on the issue in April and Mr. Powell said any further round must also include, at a minimum, South Korea and Japan.

The United States has ruled out any reward to North Korea for returning to compliance with nuclear agreements it has broken, but it has held out the prospect of reviving an offer of diplomatic recognition and aid if it verifiably ended its nuclear weapons drive.

The North Korean issue is expected to be high on the agenda next week when Mr. Powell is due to attend a dialogue with foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- ASEAN -- and other countries in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.