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    Australia Summons North Korean Ambassador After Claimed Nuclear Test, but Does Not Sever Ties

    Phil Mercer

    Australia has summoned the North Korean ambassador in Canberra for discussions, and rejected North Korea's justification for its claimed nuclear test. The Australians, however, have stopped short of severing diplomatic ties with North Korea to protest the test.

    North Korean Ambassador Chon Jay Hong has been told in no uncertain terms of Australia's opposition to his government's apparent first nuclear test.

    Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Pyongyang has isolated itself from the entire world by attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

    Downer rejected Chon's assertion that North Korea needed nuclear weapons to defend itself against the United States.

    He also says North Korea has humiliated its closest ally, China, which had tried along with many other nations to persuade Pyongyang not to carry out the test.

    Despite its anger at North Korea's actions, however, Downer says Canberra is not planning to sever its ties with Pyongyang, or to expel the ambassador in protest.

    "At the end of the day I don't suppose it would make any difference one way or the other, so we may as well maintain at least some line of communication with the North Koreans. There's no sort of absolute right or wrong. My own judgment is that it's slightly better to keep some lines of communication," said Downer.

    North Korea's formal diplomatic relations with other countries are relatively limited, and Canberra's ties with Pyongyang are seen as an important communications link between the secretive regime and the outside world.

    In the aftermath of the test, the United Nations Security Council is considering a U.S.-drafted resolution calling for an array of mandatory financial and trade sanctions against North Korea. President Bush has said Pyongyang's action constitutes "a threat to international peace and security," and requires "an immediate response" from the Security Council.

    Australia is meanwhile planning to impose its own punitive measures, including curtailing visas for North Koreans, in addition to supporting any sanctions the Security Council ultimately decides on.

    Australian Prime Minister John Howard has said his government will consider convening an emergency meeting of regional foreign ministers to co-ordinate a diplomatic response to the situation.

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