WASHINGTON – Fighting nuclear proliferation on two fronts, the Bush administration said Sunday that military action contemplated against Iraq would not now remedy North Korea's violation of a U.S. agreement to dismantle its weapons program.
Whether through force or diplomacy, the U.S. goal is to eliminate both countries' weapons programs, the White House's leading foreign policy advisers said.
"We're not going to have a cookie cutter for foreign policy, where we try to apply the same formula to every case. It would be foolhardy to do that," said Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser.
"The president put it very well when he said there may be many modalities, but there's only one morality. And the morality is that we are not prepared to allow nuclear powers of this kind to grow up," she said in a televised interview.
Secretary of State Colin Powell stressed the need of working with the leaders of Russia, China, Japan, South Korea and others in the region to deter North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
"We'll move forward as a group of nations that are concerned about this issue," he said.
North Korea was branded, along with Iraq and Iran, as an "axis of evil" by Bush in January. He pledged after the Sept. 11 attacks that the United States would not allow those nations to threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction.
Iraq has chemical and biological weapons and is said to be working on nuclear arms. Unless U.N. inspectors are dispatched and eventually certify Iraq's disarmament, President Saddam Hussein's government faces U.S. military action either under U.N. auspices or with the authority of a congressional resolution signed by Bush this month.
North Korea has chemical weapons and a rudimentary biological weapons program, and the United States says the North Korean officials admitted this month the country is enriching uranium to make nuclear weapons in violation of a 1994 agreement.
Rice and Powell said the administration is considering how to force North Korea to abandon its program, but there is no plan so far for an invasion.
Powell said the administration considers the 1994 agreement, signed eight years ago Monday, effectively dead.
When the North Koreans told a U.S. envoy of its nuclear program, they "blamed us for their actions and then said they considered that agreement nullified," Powell said on NBC's Meet the Press.
"When you have an agreement between two parties, and one says it's nullified, then it's hard to see what you do with such an agreement."
As part of the accord, Washington agreed to head a consortium to provide North Korea with two modern atomic reactors to replace its existing nuclear reactors, which could yield more bomb-grade plutonium. Japan and South Korea were to pay most of the $4 billion bill.
A senior White House official said Sunday that, considering North Korea's admission, it was unlikely the two new power plants will be completed. North Korea said the consortium's failure to meet a 2003 deadline was why it nullified the pact.
Powell said Bush will consult with the leaders of South Korea, Japan and China this week at a summit of Pacific Rim leaders in Mexico about whether to halt a provision of the agreement under which the United States supplies North Korea up to 500,000 tons of heavy oil a year. The oil is to help meet the country's energy needs until the new reactors come on line.
Despite the consultations, the White House official said, the decision to suspend the shipments already is all but final.
U.S. officials have said there were aspects of the agreement that the administration wants to preserve.
"We're looking at all of the things that rest on the agreed framework, to see what is in our interest to keep doing, what is in our interest not to keep doing," Powell said on ABC's This Week.
He mentioned plutonium stored at a facility in Yongbyon that is monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Energy Department workers. "We don't want to see that suddenly become unwatched," Powell said. "So, we have to be very careful and move with a certain deliberateness."
Powell said it was essential for North Korea's neighbors and other countries "to put maximum pressure on North Korea to make the point to them that this is totally inconsistent with trying to improve the lives of your people."
He said North Korean leader Kim Jung Il constitutes "a threat in his own right" but less so than Iraq's Saddam.
Rice cited differences between the two.
"North Korea is ... is deterred by 37,000 American forces and a strong alliance with the Republic of Korea that has kept the peace for 50 years," Rice said, and in recent years Kim has indicated a desire for some opening of his society.
"It is also a poor and isolated power that ... can be told very bluntly that it cannot break out of that isolation at the same time that it pursues illegal nuclear weapons," she said.
In Iraq, she said, "we've tried everything" since the Persian Gulf War. Both situations are dangerous, but they're not comparable, Rice said. "We believe that we have different methods that will work in North Korea that clearly have not and will not work in Iraq," she said.
That approach won praise from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who has criticized the administration's foreign policy in the past.
"I think there are very significant circumstances that require a different approach," said Daschle, D-S.D., "and I think the administration is making the right decision in using the different approaches."