Bush doesn't rule out attack on N. Korea's nuclear sites

President urges China to take greater role in helping to end standoff

February 08, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - President Bush urged China yesterday to help end the nuclear standoff with North Korea and said he remained confident that diplomacy would defuse the crisis.

But he didn't rule out the possibility of a military attack on North Korea's nuclear sites.

"All options are on the table, but I believe we can solve this diplomatically," he said, adding that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il "must comply with the world's demand that he not develop a nuclear weapon."

North Korea warned yesterday through the official news agency KCNA of "horrible nuclear disasters" if the United States threatens Pyongyang militarily. "The whole land of Korea will be reduced to ashes," the North said, underlining its threat to South Korea.

North Korea's troops, the news agency said, were staging anti-U.S. rallies to prepare for the possibility of a "life-and-death battle" against the "imperialists."

Bush's call to Chinese President Jiang Zemin seeking China's intervention followed similar conversations with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Administration officials have become increasingly frustrated by China's seeming unwillingness to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, which is the core of the dispute.

China is North Korea's largest trading partner and one of the few countries with ties to its reclusive regime. Although Jiang agreed with Bush on the need for a nonnuclear Korean Peninsula during a visit last year to Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, the Chinese leader doesn't seem to have followed up on his comments.

Bush said he "reminded" Jiang that "we have a joint responsibility to uphold the goal that we talked about in Crawford - that goal being a nuclear weapons-free peninsula."

He said Russia had a responsibility to get involved.

Bush's remarks came before the swearing-in ceremony of Treasury Secretary John Snow.

The president's diplomatic efforts seem to have had little impact. North Korea has taken a series of steps in recent months to reactivate a nuclear weapons program that it promised to shut down as part of a 1994 agreement with the Clinton administration.

The latest provocative move came Wednesday, when North Korea announced that it had restarted a nuclear power plant that U.S. officials fear will be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

North Korean officials have threatened a pre-emptive attack against the United States and warned that any attempt to interfere with its nuclear program would result in "total war." In addition to the one or two nuclear weapons that intelligence analysts believe North Korea has produced, the regime is known to have chemical and biological weapons.

Bush has rebuffed North Korea's invitation to resolve the issue through direct negotiations that could lead to U.S. concessions on trade and economic aid. He is relying on diplomatic pressure to persuade North Korea to abandon its weapons program while suggesting that if Pyongyang scraps its nuclear work, it could receive more food, fuel and other assistance.

Bush's account of his diplomatic outreach was intended to counter congressional critics in both parties, who say that he hasn't done enough to resolve the stalemate. Many analysts think North Korea provoked the confrontation at a time when Bush's focus is on Iraq.

While pressing ahead with diplomacy, administration officials have taken a more bellicose tone in recent days. On Thursday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the United States has "robust plans for any contingencies."

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