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US to Continue Pressing For UN Condemnation of N. Korean Nuclear Program - 2003-04-09

The United States says it will continue pressing the U.N. Security Council to adopt a statement critical of North Korea's recent nuclear moves. A council meeting on the issue Wednesday ended inconclusively, with China opposing any statement faulting Pyongyang.

The Security Council could not agree on a statement and no date was set for a resumption of the debate. But the State Department said it was only the first of what it hopes will be several meetings on the issue, and it continues to press for international condemnation of the North Korean nuclear program.

The issue was referred to the Security Council by the International Atomic Energy Agency this, after North Korea announced earlier this year it was expelling IAEA inspectors from its Yongbyon nuclear complex and withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In Security Council deliberations, both China and Russia are understood to have opposed a statement criticizing Pyongyang, contending it would only complicate the situation.

However State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States believes U.N. action would be "timely and appropriate" and said he hoped council deliberations will eventually yield a statement.

"We do believe the council should act to go on record opposing North Korea's nuclear actions and warning against further provocations," he said. "The council is charged with issues of international security such as this matter. It needs to unite to produce an effective response to North Korea's actions that challenge the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the safeguards agreement, as well as many other agreements that North Korea had."

The United States, backed by permanent council members Britain and France, has pursued a middle course at the U.N., seeking a statement, rather than formal resolution from the Security Council, criticizing North Korea.

It has also ruled out any early pursuit of sanctions against North Korea, which that government has said would be tantamount to an act of war.

In his comments here, spokesman Boucher avoided direct criticism of China, despite its lead role in opposing Security Council action.

Officials said privately Beijing has been helpful in behind-the-scenes contacts with North Korea, which has retreated somewhat from its aggressive posture in recent weeks and has not begun to reprocess spent nuclear fuel at its reactor complex.

Pyongyang has demanded a non-aggression treaty and direct talks with the United States as a price for rolling back its nuclear moves, while the Bush administration maintains the issue is of regional concern and that talks should involve other affected parties including China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

In what may be a sign of easing tensions, U.S. officials met North Korean diplomats last week at the United Nations, which has been a venue for periodic working-level contacts between the sides.