Secretary of State Colin Powell says the Bush administration will not "blink" in the face threatening rhetoric from North Korea, and will continue building international diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program. He spoke Wednesday as senior U.S. officials held strategy meetings in Washington on North Korea with Japanese and South Korean diplomats.
Mr. Powell is serving notice on Pyongyang that the United States will not be deterred by rhetoric in its drive to isolate North Korea over its nuclear activity, and he says North Korean leaders should realize that their weapons program is a "declining asset" that is depriving their country of desperately needed outside aid.
The secretary's comments came after North Korea warned of Tuesday what was termed "merciless" retaliation, and the possible abandonment of the 1953 Korean armistice, if the United States and its allies imposed sanctions or a blockade against Pyongyang.
In an ABC radio interview, Mr. Powell suggested that the harsh language may reflect frustration by the North over the success of U.S. diplomatic efforts on the nuclear issue and said the United States will not be deterred by tough talk.
"The North Koreans make claims, they make threats, they are masters of rhetorical excess. And what must be surprising them right now is that the United States is not going blink and suddenly start accommodating their demands because they make these claims," he said. "They are sitting on an asset that is declining in value, and that's this program. And the sooner they get rid of this program, the sooner we'll all be able to help them feed a starving population and help them with an economy that is about destroyed."
Mr. Powell said again that North Korea, which among other things wants a non-aggression pact and bilateral negotiations with the United States, will not be rewarded for bad behavior in violating its international nuclear commitments since last year.
Echoing comments earlier in the day by President Bush, Mr. Powell said the United States wants the issue negotiated multi-laterally with the aim of permanently removing North Korea's nuclear capability not freezing it as it was under the 1994 "agreed framework" with the Clinton administration.
Mr. Powell spoke amid North Korea strategy talks here involving senior Bush administration officials and diplomatic teams headed by South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-Hyuck and Japanese Foreign Ministry Director-General Mitoji Yabunaka.
The talks due to continue Thursday are described as informal and not a full meeting of the three countries' Trilateral Coordination and Oversight group known as TCOG which convened last month in Hawaii.
The three-way talks come as a senior Chinese diplomat Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi is also in Washington for wide-ranging political discussions that include North Korea.