WASHINGTON — President Bush said Thursday that the United States is seeking a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff with North Korea, but cautioned that diplomacy will take time.
Bush said he was pleased that leaders of China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, in telephone calls during the past few days, agreed that the reclusive communist regime should not be allowed to possess nuclear weapons.
“My message was that we want to solve this problem diplomatically, and the best way to solve this problem diplomatically is for all of us to be working in concert,” Bush said.
Bush said the nations’ message to Kim Jong Il was, “We expect you to adhere to international norms. We expect you to keep your word.”
He said that what’s important is that the international community speak with one voice.
“Diplomacy takes a while,” he said, “We’re spending time, diplomatically, making sure that voice is unified.”
“Let’s send a common message that you won’t be rewarded for ignoring the world and that you’ll be isolated if you continue to do this and yet there’s a way forward,” Bush said.
Bush said the more isolated North Korea becomes, the bigger the threat is to the world.
“It’s hard for me to tell you what’s on his mind,” Bush said of Kim Jong Il. “This is a very closed society. We do know there are a lot of concentration camps. We do know people are starving.
“I think what we have to do is plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
Differences over language
At the United Nations, there were differences over a Japanese-backed draft resolution to sanction North Korea. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the measure had “broad and deep support,” but Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador told The Associated Press that Moscow would not back sanctions, as the resolution calls for.
Instead, Russia wants the council to pass a nonbinding presidential statement with the goal of getting North Korea back into six-party talks on its nuclear program.
While agreeing that North Korea’s missile tests were a provocative act, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who appeared with Bush at the news conference, said Canada was not ready to reopen discussions about joining the U.S. missile shield.
The shield involves basing missiles capable of taking out incoming missiles launched by terrorists or rogue states—although the system isn’t designed to foil a mass attack by a major power.
Opponents of the missile scheme — including Canada’s former Prime Minister Paul Martin — say it won’t work and risks kicking off a new international arms race. Bush said he did not broach the issue with Harper.
Pyongyang asserts its rights
The North Korean Foreign Ministry, in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, insisted that the communist state had the right to missile tests and argued the weapons were needed for defense.
That heartened U.S. officials, since an earlier version of the missile — last tested in 1998 — failed later in its flight, apparently due to a third-stage malfunction. A working version of the intercontinental missile, with a top range of 5,000 to 7,500 miles, could potentially reach the United States with a light payload.
The South Korean press was reporting Thursday that the North had three or four short- or medium-range missiles on launch pads ready for firing.
A defiant North Korea acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that it had launched several missiles, vowed to carry out more tests and threatened to use force if the international community tried to stop it.
Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, asked on a round of morning television news shows about North Korea’s latest threat, said that “I think the North Koreans would like to pit the United States against themselves in a one-on-one battle of wills. We’re not going to fall for that.”
Instead, Burns said, the U.S. would work to muster international pressure on North Korea to “cease and desist” such actions.
At the United Nations, splits emerged among the critics of North Korea’s testing program. China, North Korea’s closest ally, and Russia, which has been trying to re-establish Soviet-era ties with Pyongyang, said only diplomacy could halt North Korea’s nuclear and rocket development programs.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned against threatening North Korea with sanctions, saying this would provoke a hostile response from Pyongyang.
“We call for a balanced position because attempts to immediately talk of threats will provoke threats in return from North Korea, as has happened before,” Lavrov said in Moscow. “Then, in any case, you have to return to negotiations, but already in a much tenser atmosphere.”
Japan, within range of North Korean missiles, circulated a U.N. Security Council resolution Wednesday that would ban any country from transferring funds, material and technology that could be used in North Korea’s missile and weapons of mass destruction programs.
Japanese officials said Tokyo and Washington agreed to push for sanctions against Pyongyang, while South Korean officials said they agreed only to cooperate in diplomacy, with no mention of punishing North Korea.
China and Russia countered that they favor a weaker council statement without any threat of sanctions. Both countries hold veto power on the council.
Council experts were to meet again Thursday morning and council ambassadors may then meet in the afternoon to review progress, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the session was closed.
China’s President Hu Jintao held talks on Thursday with Bush and reiterated Beijing’s “serious concerns” after North Korea’s missile tests, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“We are seriously concerned about the current situation,” the statement quoted Hu as saying, echoing earlier comments by the foreign ministry.
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