The United States should seek dialogue rather than confrontation with North Korea following the isolated, totalitarian country's move to reactivate its nuclear program, foreign diplomats and analysts are urging.
Some said President Bush's accusation after Sept. 11 that North Korea is part of an "axis of evil" had helped provoke the current crisis. Others put the blame squarely on North Korea and urged Bush to stand firm.
"You cannot achieve anything through accusations, pressure, or tight demands, not to mention threats," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov told the Interfax news agency. "That will only make it worse."
"The American and international reaction ... has to rely less on rhetoric and more on traditional, sensitive diplomacy," former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind said in Friday's edition of The Times newspaper.
North Korea announced earlier this month it would reopen nuclear facilities that were shut down under a 1994 agreement with Washington. The confrontation escalated Friday when North Korea said it was reoccupying a nuclear laboratory and expel U.N. nuclear inspectors stationed at the Yongbyon plant.
Politicians around the world have condemned North Korea's actions, and some newspapers urged Bush to stand firm with Pyongyang.
"Not only does North Korea menace its own region, it is also a major exporter of missile technology to other terrorist states," The Times wrote in an editorial.
But some have expressed alarm at American rhetoric, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's recent assertion that the United States has the military strength to wage war against Iraq and North Korea at the same time.
The United States and North Korea should "cherish and uphold the 1994 framework agreement" and "resolve the question through dialogue," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
U.S. officials say the Soviet-designed Yongbyon reactor, part of a nuclear complex north of North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, contains enough plutonium for several atomic bombs, but a Russian government minister expressed doubt.
"Industrial production of military nuclear materials is a complicated process, and (North) Korea so far cannot afford it," Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev told a news conference Friday.
One Japanese analyst urged the United States to be patient, saying impoverished North Korea would eventually back down.
"North Koreans are already suffering from an inflationary economy, food shortages and hunger," said Kazuro Umezu, professor of East Asian Studies at Shimane Prefectural University. "In the next few months, North Korea may be forced to offer a compromise deal."
Other Russian analysts said that by reactivating its nuclear program, North Korea is simply trying to scare the West into making more concessions.
The North Korean leadership is playing a "risky game," but its ultimate goal is winning "security assurances for the regime and more economic aid from the outside world," said Vladimir Orlov, director of the PIR Center think tank in Moscow.
Britain's Foreign Office called North Korea's actions "very worrying" but agreed they appeared to be part of a negotiating ploy.
Pyongyang's brinkmanship appears to be "a clumsy attempt to gain international leverage rather than being a move to set itself in contravention and opposition to the international community," Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell said.
Some British newspapers blamed Bush for provoking the crisis by cutting off negotiations with North Korea and calling it a part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and Iran.
"Through its renewed pressure on the North Korean regime, the Bush administration has now produced the very opposite of what it says it wants," or the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, the Guardian newspaper wrote in an editorial. "This is dangerous, irresponsible behavior."
Under the 1994 agreement, North Korea froze its suspected plutonium-based nuclear weapons program, but decided to restart it after the United States and its allies halted fuel supplies as promised under the deal. The U.S. move was punishment for revelations in October that North Korea had moved forward with a second nuclear weapons program that used enriched uranium.
South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun reacted cautiously to the growing confrontation, but put the blame squarely on the North.
"Whatever North Korea's rationale is in taking such actions, they are not beneficial to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia," Roh said in a statement.