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State Dept: US Will Not Give in to Blackmail on North Korean Nukes - 2002-12-23

The Bush administration has launched wide-ranging diplomatic contacts on the latest nuclear crisis with North Korea. U.S. officials say they want a peaceful resolution of the situation, but will offer no inducements for North Korea to roll back its announced moves to reopen the reactor complex at Yongbyon.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is leading the diplomatic effort, with telephone contacts with his counterparts from South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, Britain and France.

The Bush administration is hoping to build pressure on North Korea to reverse its decision to remove U.N. seals and monitoring equipment from the reactor complex at Yongbyon, which it had agreed to shut down under the 1994 "agreed framework" deal with the United States.

The United States wants Pyongyang to unconditionally resume talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency and restore the safeguards on the reactor. But North Korea reiterated through its official media Monday that the only way to resolve the situation is for the United States to sign a non-aggression treaty with it.

Briefing reporters here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker says there should be no reward, diplomatic or otherwise, for North Korean misbehavior.

"It's North Korea's responsibility to first of all eliminate its nuclear weapons program verifiably, and more immediately to focus on talking to the IAEA about re-establishing that which North Korea has dismantled in terms of seals and cameras and other safeguards," he said. "We will not give into blackmail. The international community will not enter into dialogue in response to threats or broken commitments, and we're not going to bargain or offer inducements for North Korea to live up to the treaties and agreements that it has signed."

Mr. Reeker said North Korea is responsible for deepening its own international isolation, and he described as "totally absurd" suggestions from Pyongyang that the crisis was provoked by hard-line U.S. comments, including President Bush's listing of North Korea as part of an "axis of evil."

There were similar remarks earlier by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who told Pentagon reporters North Korea's problems, including its profound economic crisis, are self-inflicted and have nothing to do with U.S. rhetoric.

"The idea that it's the rhetoric from the United States that's causing them to starve their people or to do these idiotic things, to try to build a nuclear power plant. They don't need a nuclear power plant," he said. "Their power grid couldn't even absorb that. If you look at a picture from the sky of the Korean peninsula at night, South Korea is filled with lights and energy and vitality and a booming economy. North Korea is dark. It is a tragedy what's being done in that country. And the suggestion that it is a result of rhetoric from outside I think misses the point."

Mr. Rumsfeld said he had no reason to believe that North Korea made its latest nuclear moves because of a belief that the United States was preoccupied militarily with Iraq, but he said if it held that view, it would be mistaken.

Though stressing the administration's intention to deal with Pyongyang through diplomacy, the defense chief said the United States would be "perfectly capable" of fighting, and winning, two major regional military conflicts at the same time.