WASHINGTON – The State Department revealed little from Secretary of State Colin Powell's phone call with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson Friday, following a wrap-up of the second day of talks between Richardson and two North Korean envoys.
"The Secretary has heard from Gov. Richardson. We understand he may have further discussions with the North Korean delegation. We have heard nothing particularly new from them, although they did express interest in a dialogue," said a State Department official.
Richardson said they met for a total of seven hours Thursday and Friday, and planned a working dinner Friday night. They will resume talks Saturday before the North Koreans depart.
Earlier in the day the White House expressed disappointment, but not surprise, at North Korea's decision to abandon the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The State Department condemned the action, calling it "another step in its confrontational approach to the international community."
On Thursday, North Korea announced that it was pulling out of the treaty signed by 187 countries. On Friday, North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations, Pak Gil Yon, said that the withdrawal would be effective within a day.
"This kind of disrespect for such an agreement cannot go undealt with," Powell said Friday during a photo opportunity with International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei.
"North Korea has thumbed its nose at the international community and it is very, very regrettable," Powell said. "Nevertheless we will continue to search for a solution" and offer to conduct talks aimed at resolving the problem.
ElBaradei called Pyongyang's move "a continuation of a policy of defiance" that will not help it achieve its security goals.
"Withdrawal from the NPT is a very serious issue. This is a cornerstone of the whole nuclear arms control regime and a country cannot just walk out without ramifications. Challenging the integrity of the non-proliferation regime is a matter that can affect international peace and security," ElBaradei said.
ElBaradei said that he would give diplomacy an opportunity to work, but said that the IAEA would refer the situation to the U.N. Security Council if a resolution is not forthcoming in the next few weeks.
Earlier in the day, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called North Korea's decision "a serious challenge" to the international community and a further escalation of North Korea's departure from international standards.
Boucher did not call the latest situation "a crisis" but said that it requires the entire world community to put pressure on North Korea not to give up its international responsibilities.
The State Department official said the U.S. position is that "we are willing to talk to North Korea about how it will meet its obligations to the international community. The usual channels of communication remain open should North Korea have more to say."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that while the United States was disappointed with the decision, given their flagrant disregard of the 1968 pact, "it comes as no surprise."
"I think it's fair to say that North Korea has decided that it wants to stick its finger in the eye of the world. This is not an action North Korea has taken vis-a-vis the United States, this is an action that North Korea has taken vis-a-vis the world. The world stands united; North Korea stands isolated," Fleischer said.
Fleischer pointed out that North Korea has already been condemned by France and England and has drawn statements of very serious concern from Australia, Japan and Russia.
Boucher added, "It's been made clear by the statements that you're seeing today on North Korea's announcement of its intention to withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty, where I think every government that's spoken has expressed everything from condemnation to deploring it to serious concern ... and made absolutely clear that the Nonproliferation Treaty is the cornerstone of international nonproliferation efforts and that North Korea is putting itself at odds with the entire international community by taking this step," he said.
British diplomats have said the issue is one for discussion by the U.N. Security Council. Australia said it would send a diplomatic team to Pyongyang next week.
Boucher called North Korea's move illegal because it must give 90 days notice and said that any previous action, including the country's decision to suspend participation a decade ago, does not count toward that notice time.
He said the best thing to do would be for North Korea to change its mind again about withdrawing from the treaty.
North Korea is also bound by a pact with South Korea that requires a halt to nuclear weapons programs.
North Korea's withdrawal is a formal denunciation of international efforts to prevent the spread of atomic weapons. The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency is responsible for making sure that states enforce the pact. North Korea recently threw out monitors from the IAEA and tore down cameras that monitored its nuclear power facilities.
North Korea escalated tensions late Thursday when its official news agency announced the communist nation's withdrawal from the global nuclear arms control treaty. On Friday, North Korea warned the United States against taking military action, saying it would "finally lead to the Third World War."
On Friday, Chinese President Jiang Zemin reiterated to President Bush "China's commitment to a non-nuclear Korean peninsula," Fleischer said. The two spoke in a 15-minute phone call in which the president said the two leaders were tied by a common bond with the rest of the world to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
Bush also told the Chinese leader the United States "has no hostile intentions toward North Korea" and seeks a peaceful solution to the standoff, Fleischer said.
"Gov. Richardson as you all know has a past relationship with North Korea and has done work with them and they know him. And he knows them so in order to not deprive ourselves of any useful information, we suggested to Gov. Richardson that it would be okay to go ahead, and we made it possible for the North Koreans to see him," Powell said in explaining why Richardson was tapped for the mission.
Fleischer suggested that North Korea will reverse course once it realizes how devastating it would be to lose the economic development aid it gets from the United States and its neighbors.
The United States had been ready to offer North Korea a "bold approach" to help one of the world's poorest states rejoin the community of nations, but that was before it declared it had resumed its nuclear weapons program, Fleischer said.
"North Korea continues to take steps in the wrong direction, hurting only their own cause and the cause of the North Korean people," Fleischer said.
While announcing it was withdrawing from the arms treaty, North Korea also indicated Friday it was willing to talk to Washington to end the escalating crisis, and would even allow Washington to verify that it is not producing nuclear weapons if Washington drops its "vicious, hostile policy" toward the nation.
North Korea's envoy to China hinted that his government would consider reversing its decision if the United States, Japan and South Korea resumed fuel shipments.
The Bush administration has ruled out concessions but said otherwise there were no restrictions on talks.
South Korea's ambassador to Washington, Sung Chul Yang, said, "dialogue doesn't mean yielding to their nuclear brinkmanship. Dialogue is to find out what they have in mind."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.