Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday a North Korean missile test would be unfortunate. But at a New York news conference he said a test would not intimidate the United States, or alter its support for six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program.
Mr. Powell says he has seen intelligence information, also cited by Japanese and South Korean officials, about activity around a North Korean missile site.
But he says the United States cannot be sure what the activity means or whether a missile test might be imminent, and he said in any case, it will not affect the U.S. commitment to multilateral talks on ending the North Korean nuclear program.
At a New York news conference held amid a day of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Mr. Powell said it would be lamentable if North Korea ended its self-imposed moratorium on ballistic missile tests in place since 1999. But he said it would not change U.S. policy.
"I think it would be very unfortunate if the North Koreans were to do something like this, and break out of the moratorium that they have been following for a number of years," Mr. Powell said. "It would not change our policy. It would not change our approach to dealing with the North Korean nuclear problem. We would stay very firmly embedded in the six-party framework and we would not be intimidated with respect to our policies."
Mr. Powell said a missile test would be a very troubling matter for China, Russia, Japan and South Korea who would be in range of such missiles and who, he said, would likely register strong concerns with Pyongyang over such a development.
Along with the United States and North Korea, those countries are the participants in the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear program underway with Chinese sponsorship since last year.
When they last met in Beijing in June, the parties agreed in principle to reconvene this month, but hopes for an early resumption have faded with Pyongyang refusing to set a date for new talks.
Mr. Powell told reporters he thinks the six-party negotiating process is still very much alive even though he said North Korea is finding reasons to delay the process.
He said Pyongyang may be waiting for the end of the U.S. presidential election, or are reflecting on recent revelations about past South Korean uranium enrichment experiments, which Mr. Powell described as very benign.
But he said it is absolutely clear that the six-party talks are the only way forward and said he hopes North Korean leaders realize that the sooner they return, the sooner the other parties will be able to help Pyongyang deal with its very serious economic problems.
The Bush administration has said it is ready to be part of multilateral guarantees for North Korea's security in the context of an agreement for a complete and verifiable end to its nuclear program.
U.S. officials have said other parties to the talks would be free to extend aid to Pyongyang as a deal is implemented, and that after disarmament the United States might revive a 2002 overture for increased aid and recognition for the communist state.