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White House Believes Diplomacy Best At Handling N. Korean Nuclear Questions - 2002-12-04

The White House says it continues to believe diplomacy is the best way to handle tensions created by North Korea's nuclear development program. The comments followed Pyongyang's rejection of a U.N. request to open its nuclear facilities to inspection.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer made clear the administration does not approve of North Korea's response to the International Atomic Energy Agency. "Their rejection of the IAEA resolution to open its facilities to inspection is another disappointing example of North Korea's isolationism, which will only hurt the people of North Korea," he said.

But Mr. Fleischer went to some lengths to draw a distinction between North Korea and Iraq where U.N. weapons inspectors are currently at work looking for evidence of weapons of mass destruction. "The difference between North Korea and Iraq, in the president's judgement, is that Iraq for 10 years has defied 16 United Nations Security Council Resolutions, has repeatedly promised to disarm and has never done so," said Ari Fleischer. "That is not the case in North Korea where they are not under these United Nations Security Council resolutions."

The White House spokesman stressed that different approaches work best with different countries. President Bush has threatened to use force to disarm Iraq if Baghdad refuses to give up its weapons of mass destruction. However, Mr. Fleischer left no doubt diplomacy remains the weapon of choice in dealing with Pyongyang. "We will continue to apply this pressure to North Korea by working in partnership with Russia and China who together put out a joint statement calling on North Korea to make certain that they comply with their obligations concerning the Agreed Framework - as well as Japan and South Korea," he said.

In 1994, North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear weapons program in exchange for energy aid. In October, a senior U.S. diplomat said Pyongyang had admitted violating that agreement.