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White House to Investigate N. Korean Nuclear Claims - 2003-07-15

The White House says it is looking into claims North Korea has reprocessed enough used nuclear fuel to make several bombs. The Bush administration says it is concerned about North Korea's nuclear intentions, and wants to find out if Pyongyang is bluffing once again.

White House Spokesman Scott McClellan confirms that North Korea made the admission last week.

He provides few details, stressing the claim must be investigated by intelligence agencies. "We are looking at the matter," he said. "North Korea has made a lot of claims in the past, some true, some not true."

But Mr. McClellan makes clear the Bush administration is not taking this latest statement from Pyongyang lightly.

"The bottom line remains that reprocessing is a serious concern and it is something that we will work to address," he said. "We seek a diplomatic solution but as we move forward we will be in close contact with South Korea, Japan, China and other countries in the region to address this and find a solution."

The new White House press secretary says no one in the region will tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea. When asked by reporters what the United States would do if Pyongyang refuses to give up its nuclear intentions, Mr. McClellan said he would not speculate.

The question was prompted by comments made by former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry in an interview with The Washington Post. Mr. Perry warned that the United States and North Korea are drifting towards war, and charged that the Bush administration is losing control of the situation.

When asked about the interview, Mr. McClellan said the United States will not be blackmailed by North Korea. He said Pyongyang faces a choice: it can further isolate itself in the world community, or give up its nuclear program and move forward.