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Senior US Official Warns No Short-Term Solution to North Korean Crisis - 2003-05-31

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Saturday there is no short-term solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis, and the only recourse is multilateral pressure on Pyongyang. Mr. Wolfowitz also told the Asia Security Conference in Singapore that military action was not going to solve the problem.

Asia's largest gathering of defense ministers and military chiefs was told by Mr. Wolfowitz that North Korea's nuclear ambitions and its unreliability threaten regional security. "It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we're dealing with a state that has little regard for commitments it undertakes or for the delicate nature of the Northeast Asia security environment," he said.

The Pentagon official warned that the reclusive Stalinist regime might sell nuclear technology to rogue states and terrorists, and said the only means of changing Pyongyang's mind was a united stance by countries in the region, combined with "long-term Asian patience." "This is not and cannot be a bilateral issue, as Pyongyang would like it, limited to a two-way dialogue between North Korea and the United States. It affects the whole region and requires a multilateral approach," he said.

Mr. Wolfowitz urged countries that keep the North Korean regime "afloat" with economic aid to tell Pyongyang that they will no longer do so if it continues with its nuclear program.

But he rejected military action as a solution, and said the United States hopes economic pressure might change Pyongyang's mind. He said Iraq, by contrast, was not susceptible to economic pressure because of its huge oil reserves.

He said one hope was for the North's impoverished population to rise up and overthrow the regime. He said nuclear weapons will not protect Pyongyang from the greatest threat to its security, which he described as "the total failure of its system."

Mr. Wolfowitz will travel to Seoul on Sunday, to continue Washington's search for multilateral pressure on the North. The United States and North Korea held talks in Beijing in April, in which China played a small role, and Washington hopes to expand on that.

U.S. officials said North Korea claimed at those talks that it already had nuclear weapons, but hinted it would give up its nuclear program in return for economic aid and security guarantees.