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US Stresses Diplomacy on North Korean Missile Issue

The Bush administration says diplomacy is the right course in defusing the crisis over North Korea's apparent preparations for a long-range missile test. The comments followed a call by former Defense Secretary William Perry that the United States use pre-emptive military action if necessary to prevent the launch.

Senior Bush administration officials are reiterating their commitment to a diplomatic solution to the North Korean missile issue in the face of a call by a former defense chief that a limited pre-emptive attack be considered to stop the test of what could be an intercontinental-range missile.

William Perry, who ran the Pentagon during the Clinton administration, made the suggestion in a Washington Post newspaper commentary that he co-authored with a former top Defense Department aide, Ashton Carter.

The two former officials, both now university professors, said that the United States cannot sit by and let what they termed the deadly threat of a long-range missile capability in North Korea mature.

They said if Pyongyang persists in launch preparations, the United States should declare its intention to destroy the missile, and that the job could be done with little other damage with a conventionally-armed U.S. cruise missile.

Officials here said while Perry, an expert on both North Korea and disarmament issues, had been consulted by the Bush administration in the past, there has been no contact with him on the current missile test issue.

White House National Security Adviser Steven Hadley, traveling with President Bush in Hungary, said the administration thinks diplomacy is the right answer in the current situation, and that is what it is pursuing.

The comments were echoed by State Department Deputy Spokesman Adan Ereli, who said the international community is speaking with one voice in calling for North Korea to observe its self-declared moratorium on missile testing, and in its assessment that a test would be a provocative act:

"We continue to consult, to coordinate, both bilaterally as well as multilaterally to forestall any missile launch," said Adan Ereli. "And as National Security Adviser Hadley said today, diplomacy is our preferred course. Diplomacy is the way we have long sought to deal with the problem of security on the Korean peninsula, more broadly speaking as well as specific to this case."

Vice President Dick Cheney had similar comments to CNN, saying he thinks the administration is addressing the issue in the proper fashion.

He also appeared to dismiss the notion of Perry and Carter that the matter could be settled by a single cruise missile, saying that if the United States decided on military action, it should be prepared to fire more than one shot.

The vice president said the United States is closely following the possible test and confirmed that U.S. officials believe the missile on the launch pad is a three-stage variant of North Korea's Taepodong 2 rocket, giving it a long range.

At the same time, Cheney said North Korean missile capabilities are fairly rudimentary and that past tests have not been notably successful.

North Korea, which is believed to possess at least a handful of nuclear weapons, fired a Taepodong missile over Japan in 1998 before announcing its test moratorium the following year.

National Security Adviser Hadley said if North Korea proceeded with a test, it would ruin the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks in which Pyongyang has been offered aid and security guarantees in exchange for ending its nuclear program.

In their commentary, Perry and Carter said if the United States tried and failed to shoot down a North Korean test missile with the anti-missile system it is building, it would undermine whatever deterrent value that system would have.

They said intervention to prevent mortal threats to U.S. security interests is a prudent policy.

But they castigated the Bush administration for taking pre-emptive military action against Iraq, which they said posed a much smaller weapons-of-mass-destruction risk than North Korea does.