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White House: US Prepared for 'Any Contigency' in Stand-Off with N. Korea - 2003-02-06

The White House says it is prepared for "any contingency" in the stand-off with North Korea over the country's nuclear weapons program. The statement follows North Korea's accusation that the Bush administration is preparing a surprise attack.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says President Bush still wants to resolve the crisis peacefully, but is "very prepared" for any contingencies. "The president believes that diplomacy is the way to handle the situation vis-a-vis North Korea," he said. "That continues to be pursued with our allies in the region, notably China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan, all of whom have a very important stake in a peaceful outcome of this."

Mr. Fleischer says Washington and those allies view North Korea's actions as a set-back to peaceful dialogue.

North Korea says the president's interest in diplomacy is a "smokescreen," meant to entice Pyongyang to drop its guard, while Washington readies an invasion. North Korean officials say they will retaliate against any attack on its nuclear facilities. The warning comes a day after the North announced it has restarted a nuclear power plant that the Bush administration believes could be used to help build nuclear weapons.

Mr. Fleischer says North Korea's actions further isolate its people from the "modern world" and lead to a situation where people are starved and denied basic human rights. "The real people who have to worry are the people of North Korea - the people of North Korea who deserve a better future and a government that represents the aspirations of mankind to have food, to have health care, to have a decent life," said Ari Fleischer.

U.S. defense officials say they are considering reinforcing U.S. troops in the Pacific as a warning to Pyongyang, but deny they have any plan to attack North Korea.

A commentary in North Korea's main newspaper Thursday pledged to respond to any U.S. strike with what it called "total war."

Mr. Fleischer described what he termed those "rattling statements" as nothing new, following North Korea's decision to resume nuclear activity in violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States.