WASHINGTON – The White House said it was reviewing North Korea's offer Monday to resolve concerns over its nuclear weapons program through talks.
In its first reaction to the U.S. disclosure of its nuclear weapons plan, North Korea expressed willingness to solve the matter through dialogue, South Korean officials said. Kim Yong Nam, the North's ceremonial head of state, made the remarks in a meeting with South Korean delegates in Pyongyang, the North's capital, according to South Korean news pool reports.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said of the offer, "We're going to review what our next step is.''
"North Korea has invited upon itself an isolationist course, and North Korea has put itself in a position where most nations around the world have not wanted much to do with North Korea, because of North Korea's actions and history,'' Fleischer said. "We're going to consult with our allies about what the next step should be vis-a-vis North Korea.''
Despite plans to use military force if needed to disarm Iraq, the United States expects diplomatic and other kinds of pressure to be enough to eliminate the nuclear weapons program that North Korea has acknowledged.
"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 Sunday on CNN's Late Edition.
Earlier, Rice told CBS' Face the Nation, "We're going to seek a peaceful solution to this. We think that one is possible.''
Fleischer said Monday, "The president is concerned about this revelation and the fact that North Korea is pursuing a program in violation of their given word.''
He declined to say whether North Korea poses an imminent threat to America, a designation the administration has given Iraq. Fleischer said Iraq, unlike North Korea, has used its weapons of mass destruction and has invaded neighbors.
Secretary of State Colin Powell stressed the need to work with the leaders of Russia, China, Japan, South Korea and others in the region to deter North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
"I don't think China is happy knowing that North Korea has been developing a nuclear weapon along a new route that was unknown to China or to Russia,'' Powell said on NBC's Meet the Press.
"We'll move forward as a group of nations that are concerned about this issue.''
Bush included North Korea with Iraq and Iran as an "axis of evil'' 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, Saddam Hussein's government faces U.S. military action either under U.N. auspices or with the authority of a congressional resolution Bush signed this month.
North Korea has chemical weapons and a rudimentary biological weapons program, and the United States says Pyongyang admitted this month that it 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,'' he said.
"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.
Fleischer said the question of whether to halt the shipments is under review, but another White House official said the decision to suspend them is all but final.