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Bush:  North Korea's Admission 'Troubling, Sobering News' - 2002-10-17

The White House says President Bush wants a diplomatic solution to North Korea's admission that it has a secret nuclear weapons program. The administration says Pyongyang's nuclear weapons are not as great a threat as weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Spokesman Scott McClellan says President Bush found North Korea's admission "troubling, sobering news" and plans to discuss the issue in talks next week with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Mr. McClellan told reporters that the president wants a "peaceful solution" to North Korean arms programs and has decided to address the issue through private, diplomatic channels.

The president is not expected to mention North Korea in campaigning for Republican candidates in the southern states of Georgia and Florida. In his State of the Union address, President Bush said North Korea, Iran and Iraq were part of an "axis of evil" that could help terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. McClellan drew a distinction between North Korea and Iraq, saying they are "different regions, different circumstances."

Mr. McClellan said the United States and its allies want North Korea to comply with nuclear nonproliferation commitments and eliminate its weapons program in a "verifiable manner."

Under a 1994 accord with the United States, North Korea was to have scrapped its nuclear weapons program in exchange for nuclear power plants and other aid.

After a two-year break, the United States and North Korea resumed high-level security talks earlier this month. It was during those discussions that U.S. officials say North Korea admitted to its nuclear program when confronted by Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly.

After he left, Korean officials called Mr. Kelley "high-handed and arrogant."

Meanwhile, a commentary on state-run North Korean radio has accused Washington of pursuing a "hostile policy" aimed at bringing the North to its knees by distorting the truth about its weapons programs.