Clinton says North Korea must not develop a nuclear bomb President vows to defend South Korea if the North attacks

November 08, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton issued a stark warning to North Korea yesterday, saying the Communist regime "cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb."

The open-ended threat, together with a new pledge to defend South Korea against an attack from the North, followed Pyongyang's continuing refusal to cooperate with international nuclear inspectors.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Mr. Clinton acknowledged foreign policy failures on Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti and gave a hesitant endorsement of the performances of Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher and Secretary of Defense Les Aspin.

Questioned about the two advisers' job status, Mr. Clinton paused for several seconds before replying that a president shouldn't discuss personnel publicly. "I think they deserve credit for doing well on many big things," he added.

Mr. Clinton has warned North Korea before about its nuclear program. In a July 9 interview with NBC's Tom Brokaw, the president said the regime knew "we would quickly and overwhelmingly retaliate if they were ever to use -- to develop and use a nuclear weapon. It would mean the end of their country as they know it."

Yesterday's interview, however, drew the line clearly at developing such a weapon. U.S. intelligence agencies have said Pyongyang may already have amassed enough uranium to assemble a crude bomb.

The president declined to say whether he would consider a pre-emptive military strike.

During Mr. Aspin's trip to South Korea last week, officials in Seoul voiced worries about pressuring the isolated North to the point where it may lash out with a military attack on the South.

Mr. Clinton alluded to these problems, saying, "We're doing everything we possibly can to make the best decisions, to be firm about this."

In keeping with U.S. security commitments to the south, he warned that an attack on South Korea would be considered "an attack on the United States."

U.S. officials say they would be compelled to move through the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Pyongyang if the International Atomic Energy Agency declares that its system for monitoring North Korea's nuclear program has totally broken down.

On other key foreign policy issues, Mr. Clinton:

* Avoided criticizing Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin for abandoning his pledge to hold presidential elections next June. Mr. Yeltsin said Saturday that he would serve until 1996, searching in the meantime for a successor.

Mr. Clinton said that as long as Mr. Yeltsin continued to promote democracy, human rights and reform, "the United States should support him." But he seemed to urge Mr. Yeltsin not to deny the new parliament a say in determining when presidential elections should be held.

* Said that with the addition of more than 8,000 troops to U.S. reserves in Somalia, U.S. troops' patrols through the streets of Mogadishu would resume. "Our young soldiers there cannot be expected to just sort of hunker down and stay behind walls. That almost puts them at greater risk," he said.

* Recounted that the CIA had told him, prior to discussing it with the Senate, that the agency had "some evidence which questioned [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide's ability to be president of Haiti." He said the CIA reports weren't conclusive and were outweighed by his and others' experience in dealing with the exiled Haitian president and by the support of two-thirds of Haitians for him.

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