U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday begins a trip to Japan, China, South Korea and Russia to rally regional powers behind the U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at getting North Korea to end its nuclear weapons ambitions. Rice says she wants to build pressure on Pyongyang to heed the resolution without ratcheting up conflict in the region.
All the countries Rice will visit have been participants in the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear program. And she says the objective of U.S. diplomacy, including Saturday's Security Council resolution, is to get Pyongyang back to the negotiations and implement the disarmament deal it accepted in principle a year ago but backed away from.
In a talk with reporters in advance of the six-day Asian trip, Rice said the purpose is to rally U.S. friends and allies behind a comprehensive strategy to isolate North Korea following its nuclear test, and prevent proliferation activity.
China, though part of Saturday's unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution providing for sanctions on North Korea, has been non-committal on how vigorously it intends to enforce the curbs, which include a ban on all trade that might advance the North Korean program.
Under questioning Rice said she is confident China will live up to its responsibilities.
She said, "I am not concerned that the Chinese are going to turn their backs on their obligations. I don't think they would have voted for a resolution that they did not intend to carry through on. And let's remember: no one has an interest in seeing the trade in dangerous materials or weapons of mass destruction. That is, if anything, more destabilizing to the neighbors than even to the interests of the United States."
Rice said she fully expects that the U.S.-organized Proliferation Security Initiative, the P.S.I, will be part of the effort to enforce the sanctions.
But she also said she is attentive to concerns that the potential interdiction of North Korean shipping could raise regional tensions, and said the United States has no desire to ratchet up conflict either.
She said precisely how the P.S.I. will be applied in the case of North Korea would be a matter of discussion. Begun in 2003, the P.S.I., aimed at curbing traffic in weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems and related materials, now has more than 75 participating countries including Japan.
The secretary defended the Bush administration's handling of the North Korean nuclear issue, including its refusal to deal directly with Pyongyang outside the six-party framework.
A bilateral 1994 nuclear freeze deal with North Korea negotiated by the Clinton administration collapsed in 2002 amid U.S. charges of North Korean cheating.
Rice insisted the present scenario, which has improbably brought North Korea's long-time ally and main supporter China into a sanctions regime, offers a real chance to persuade Pyongyang to reverse course:
"I think that people would have found that a bit of a leap, given China's history, given China's traditions on these matters, given China's relationship with North Korea. We are simply in a much stronger position to try and do something about a North Korean program that is decades-old and a pursuit of nuclear weapons that has gone on for decades, with the right combination of states that can provide both inducements and sticks [penalties] at the table, than with the United States there alone," she said.
Rice said Iran, which the United States believes has a secret nuclear weapons program, has been watching the North Korean case and can now see that the world community will respond to nuclear proliferation threats. She said she expects the Security Council to begin work on an Iran sanctions resolution this week.