The State Department reiterated Friday the United States has no hostile intentions toward North Korea, and is hoping for the success of new six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program. Two senior U.S. diplomats leave for the region Saturday to prepare for reopening of the Chinese-sponsored talks.
Administration spokesman are reaffirming the U.S. commitment to a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue in the face of a news report that the Pentagon has stepped-up contingency planning for military action against North Korean nuclear sites.
The report in the Washington Times newspaper said the military planning had been given new impetus following North Korea's nuclear test October 9, and that the principle target was the North Korean nuclear reactor complex at Yongbyong.
A Defense Department spokesman said while the U.S. military always plans for contingencies, the Washington Times report mischaracterized the U.S. approach on the nuclear issue.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said there had been no change in the administration's commitment to diplomacy.
He said, "We have made clear, the President, Secretary Rice, numerous U.S. government officials, have made it clear we have no intention to invade or attack North Korea. We believe that there is an opportunity to settle the issues that are before us via diplomatic means. I think we've shown our commitment to diplomacy. We are continuing to show that commitment in doing everything that we can to make this next round of six-party talks productive."
U.S., Chinese and North Korean diplomats meeting earlier this week in Beijing agreed that the six-party talks, idle since last November, will resume before the end of the year and perhaps sometime this month.
Spokesman McCormack said the starting point for the new talks would be the agreement in principle the parties reached in September of last year, under which North Korea committed to end its nuclear program in return for aid and security guarantees.
The State Department's chief political and disarmament officials are due to leave Saturday on a mission to Japan, China and South Korea to lay groundwork for the nuclear talks.
Officials say Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph will also press for implementation of sanctions against North Korea approved by the U.N. Security Council after the weapons test.
In a radio interview Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.N. resolution, which denies North Korea weapons technology and luxury goods for its leadership, means Pyongyang is returning to the talks under considerably different circumstances.
She said China, North Korea's main trading partner and aid provider, has made clear it will not support further misbehavior by Pyongyang, and that the United States is not just going back to the negotiations to talk, but for concrete action.
The six-party talks, involving South Korea, Japan and Russia as well as the United States, North Korea and host China, began in 2003 after the collapse of a bilateral U.S.-North Korean nuclear freeze arrangement reached in 1994.
In the interview, with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, Rice rejected an assertion by former President Jimmy Carter that the 1994 agreed framework had worked well until 2002, when Mr. Carter said the Bush administration abandoned the accord and branded North Korea part of an axis of evil.
Rice said North Korea had been violating the deal with the Clinton administration, and a denuclearization accord with South Korea as well, by running a secret uranium-enrichment program, and admitted that to a U.S. envoy in 2002.
She said there is now an opportunity to deal with the problem through diplomacy backed by what she termed real leverage on North Korea by China and the other parties.