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North Korean Nuclear Situation - 2003-03-06

China is calling on the United States and North Korea to hold direct talks to resolve the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear program. This as tensions on the Korean Peninsula have increased.

Another group of U.S. B-1 bombers arrived on the Western Pacific island of Guam Thursday. They are part of some two dozen long-range bombers dispatched to the region in the last week.

The bombers are in striking distance of North Korea. The deployment comes days after four armed North Korean fighter jets intercepted a U.S. surveillance plane in international waters off the coast of North Korea. Last month North Korea also fired missiles into the Sea of Japan and restarted one of its nuclear plant which is capable of producing weapons grade plutonium. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tried to downplay the threat North Korea poses. He says the move to deploy more military aircraft to the region is not intended as a threatening signal to North Korea.

"The reason for it was that as the situation with respect to Iraq becomes somewhat tense it seems to me that it is appropriate for the United States to look around the globe and say where might someone think of taking advantage."

Meanwhile, in Beijing China’s Foreign Minister (Tang Jiaxuan) told reporters that direct talks remain the most effective way to end the standoff. He also stressed that imposing any sanctions on North Korea would only complicate the situation.

Back in Washington a group of democrats, including former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, warned the Bush Administration against escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula by deploying more military force to the region.

"I think that kind of a deployment without moving forward on the proposal of direct talks may in fact have the opposite effect given what others have said about the paranoia of the North Koreans."

U.S. State Department officials say so far there are no plans to hold direct talks with the North Koreans.