WASHINGTON – Time remains to find a diplomatic resolution to North Korea's development of nuclear weapons, and the situation hasn't reached the crisis stage, Secretary of State Colin Powell says.
At the same time, preparations for war continued in the confrontation with Iraq, which some key senators said ranks far behind North Korea as a threat to the United States.
Powell, making the rounds of the Sunday television talk shows, said the United States was working with other countries to pressure North Korea into reserving its decision to restart its weapons program and expel U.N. inspectors monitoring its main nuclear complex.
Indeed, Powell objected to calling the North Korean problem a crisis.
"We don't believe it rises to a crisis atmosphere," he said on Fox News Sunday. "Nobody's alerting forces. It's a serious problem, and we're deeply engaged in trying to do something about it."
Continuing to make the case against Iraq, Powell insisted Saddam Hussein's regime posed the more immediate threat.
"Iraq is a regime that has stood in defiance of 16 U.N. resolutions, and we're waiting to see whether they're going to be in defiance of this new one," Powell said on NBC's Meet the Press. "And they have used this kind of capability against their own people, against their neighbors. And they have stood in this kind of defiance for 12 years."
Still, Powell said the United States has yet to decide whether to attack Iraq.
"The president has not made a decision yet with respect to the use of military force or with respect to going back to the United Nations," Powell said. "And of course, we are positioning ourselves and positioning our military forces for whatever might be required."
Others argued that the U.S. emphasis on Iraq was misplaced.
"There is no urgency in Iraq. As long as the inspectors and the international community is there, there is little or no prospect of them being able to do much mischief," Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., told NBC. "By any measure, in my view, if things get out of hand in North Korea, a lot more damage can be done to U.S. interests than can be done in the near term in Iraq."
Powell said the United States, while willing to communicate with North Korea, would do nothing to help Pyongyang unless it changes its behavior.
"They want a negotiation where we give them something for them to stop the bad behavior," he said on ABC's This Week. "And what we can't do is enter into a negotiation right away where we are appeasing them for bad behavior."
Powell said Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly will go to South Korea next month to talk to U.S. allies — but not to North Korea "at this time."
North Korean officials, for their part, urged the United States to negotiate.
"It is quite self-evident that dialogue is impossible without sitting face to face, and a peaceful settlement of the issue would be unthinkable without dialogue," said a government spokesman quoted on KCNA, the North's state-run news agency.
Several key members of Congress also called for talks with North Korea.
"We don't lose anything by doing that," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a conference call Sunday with Connecticut reporters. "That's what I wish the administration had done. The Bush administration, in taking a military option off the table and not negotiating with (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Il has left us with a policy that seems nowhere and has created a crisis."
Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told NBC "I suspect that there are going to be negotiations" of some sort.
"They may not be directly between the United States and North Korea. It could very well be through the Chinese, through the South Koreans, through the Japanese, through a combination of multilateral international community," he said.