The United States reaffirmed Monday it has no intention of attacking North Korea, though the State Department said there would be an appropriate U.S. response to any long-range North Korean missile test. Earlier, North Korea warned of a nuclear response in the event of an American attack.
Officials here are reiterating U.S. statements of peaceful intentions toward North Korea, while telling the reclusive Pyongyang government it can have a fundamentally different relationship with the United States, and its regional neighbors, through the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks.
The comments follow a strongly-worded media commentary by North Korea, which warned that country would respond to any pre-emptive attack against it with what was termed an annihilating counter-strike with nuclear weapons.
The North Korean comments were the strongest thus far since reports surfaced last month that Pyongyang might be preparing for a long-range missile test, breaking a self-imposed moratorium in place since 1999.
Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry and a former key aide drew headlines two weeks ago with a New York Times commentary advocating a pre-emptive strike to prevent the test.
The Bush administration said at the time that diplomacy was the right course to defuse the issue.
In a statement Monday following the North Korean commentary, a State Department spokeswoman said that, should North Korea take the provocation of launching a missile, the United States would respond appropriately, including by taking the necessary measures to protect itself.
But at the same time, she said, both President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have made clear the United States has no intention of invading or attacking North Korea.
She said the United States and its partners in the six-party process continue to urge North Korea not to launch a long-range missile, and, instead, return to the negotiations, and achieve the vision of the joint statement reached last September.
She said the September 19 statement lays out a framework, through which North Korea could achieve the fundamentally different relationship with the United States and the other parties, through the complete and verifiable elimination of its nuclear weapons and programs.
North Korea agreed in principle in the September document to give up its nuclear ambitions in exchange for aid and security guarantees from the other parties, which include South Korea, Japan and Russia along with the United States and host China.
But the six-party talks have been idle since a brief session in Beijing last November.
North Korea has refused to return, demanding that the United States first drop penalties imposed against North Korean business entities because of alleged counterfeiting of U.S. currency and other illegal activity by Pyongyang.
The United States has said the sanctions are completely unrelated to the six-party talks, but is prepared to discuss the matter with North Korean officials, if that country returned to the negotiations.