The Bush administration has condemned North Korea's announced intention to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPT, but nonetheless says it remains committed to a diplomatic solution. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the issue late Friday with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.
Secretary Powell described the situation created by North Korea's NPT announcement as very serious but said the United States will not intimidated or panicked, and will work deliberately to try to find a diplomatic solution.
Appearing with Mr. ElBaradei after their meeting here, Mr. Powell said the North Korean action was particularly unfortunate in that it came after the IAEA governing board had decided unanimously earlier this week to give it another chance to come into compliance with its obligations.
"North Korea has thumbed its nose at the international community," said Mr. Powell. "This is very regrettable. It's a sad statement on the part of the North Koreans of the respect in which they hold their own people. This makes it more difficult to find a solution. Nevertheless, we will continue to search for a solution. We will continue to be open to the opportunity for talks, but talks that will deal with this problem, a problem created by North Korea, not by the international community, and not by the United States."
Mr. ElBaradei for his part, called the North Korean NPT move a continuation of a policy of defiance, and said the North Korean must realize that, only through compliance, and not defiance, can it realize its needs in security and other areas.
He said the world community will give diplomacy a matter of weeks, but said if that approach fails, the issue will go to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions against the already isolated and impoverished communist state.
"I understand that there's a lot of diplomatic demarches in different capitals. Ultimately, however, if it doesn't succeed, the matter will have to go to the Security Council. But I hope we will be able to defuse the situation before we have to go to the Security Council," said Mr. ElBaradei. "Withdrawal from the NPT is a very serious issue. This is a cornerstone of the whole nuclear arms control regime. And a country just can't walk out without ramifications, because challenging the integrity of the non-proliferation regime is a matter that can affect international peace and security."
The State Department meeting followed an unusual news conference in New York by the chief North Korea's U.N. mission Pak Gil Yon, who warned that economic sanctions against his country by the Security Council would be amount to a "declaration of war."
He said North Korean nuclear activity, for the time being, would be confined to peaceful purposes such as the generation of electricity, but said future developments "would depend entirely on the attitude of the United States."
Earlier this week, in a joint statement with South Korea and Japan, the United States said it was ready to talk to North Korea on nuclear issues, but that it will not provide "quid pro quos" to North Korea to live up to its existing international obligations.
But after his own meeting with IAEA chief ElBaradei earlier Friday, incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar said North Korea should at least be given some indication of what benefits might accrue if it did return to adherence with the various nuclear accords.
"I buy the point that there has to be some light at the end of the tunnel for the North Koreans, to see really what is out there as they declare they are out of the nuclear game, which has to happen. But I think our negotiator was prepared to do that when he went over to North Korea," said Mr. Lugar. "That conversation was truncated by North Korea's admission they were into a highly-enriched uranium program. So we never got to the rest of the agenda. At some point, we need to do that, in a multi-lateral way."
Administration officials say Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, the envoy referred to by Senator Lugar, was prepared to outline a "bold approach" toward better U.S.-North Korean relations when went there in October. The overture was shelved when Pyongyang authorities acknowledged the uranium-enrichment program but U.S. officials say it could be revived, if North Korea rolled-back its nuclear weapons efforts.