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Powell Continues Diplomacy on North Korea - 2002-12-24

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke with his Japanese counterpart Tuesday as he continued telephone diplomacy for a fourth straight day on the confrontation with North Korea over its nuclear program. Aides say Mr. Powell does not want to see any further escalation of tensions with Pyongyang.

The call, initiated by Japan's Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, came amid escalating rhetoric from North Korea, which warned Tuesday of an "uncontrollable catastrophe" if the United States continued what it said was a hostile policy.

A State Department spokesman said the Secretary told Ms. Kawaguchi the Bush administration is not anxious to escalate the problem. But at the same time, he said the United States will not be blackmailed and is not prepared to offer North Korea any inducements for rolling-back its recent nuclear decisions.

The United States says Pyongyang must restore international safeguards at its nuclear complex at Yongbyon, and halt the uranium-enrichment program it acknowledged in October, before there can be any discussion of better relations or new aid for North Korea.

Secretary Powell has spoken since Saturday with his counterparts from Russia, China, South Korea, Britain and France as well as Japan to try to build an international consensus, and in particular to get North Korea to restore the status-quo at the Yongbyon reactor.

North Korea has removed International Atomic Energy Agency seals and disabled remote cameras at the reactor site, which had been shut down under the 1994 "agreed framework" with the United States .

Pyongyang says it is reactivating the plant, which can produce electricity but also weapons-grade plutonium, because its says the consortium administering the 1994 deal violated its terms by suspending fuel oil shipments to North Korea.

The Bush administration says North Korea started the whole chain of events when it admitted to a visiting U.S. envoy in October that it had a secret uranium-enrichment project.

Officials here say they are puzzled by the North Korean nuclear decisions, which analysts say may have been taken out of an assumption that the United States was pre-occupied, militarily, by the crisis with Iraq.

However, at a news conference Monday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the United States is capable of waging, and winning, two regional conflicts at the same time.

"We are capable of fighting two major regional conflicts, as the national strategy and the force-sizing construct clearly indicates. We're capable of winning decisively in one, and swiftly defeating in the case of the other. And let there be no doubt about it," he said.

As have other senior officials, Mr. Rumsfeld said the United States seeks to resolve the dispute with North Korea by diplomatic means. Though rejecting Pyongyang's demands for a non-aggression treaty, the Bush administration has said repeatedly the United States has no intention of attacking that country.