House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Friday the United States should hold off military action against Saddam Hussein to allow more time for diplomacy, weapons inspections and "the leverage provided by the threat" of war.

"I do not believe that going to war now is the best way to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction," the California Democrat said in remarks prepared for her first foreign policy speech since becoming the party's leader in the House.

Pelosi was addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, one day after President Bush used a prime-time news conference at the White House to prepare the nation for the possibility of war.

The California Democrat also jabbed at Bush's approach to North Korea, saying, "it's difficult to know what the administration's policy" is with respect to that nation. "I agree with the president that we must work with South Korea, Japan, Russia and China. However, we must also engage immediately in direct talks with North Korea in which those countries should participate," she said.

Bush, in his news conference, spoke dismissively of direct talks between the United States and North Korea. He said they had been tried during the Clinton administration, and the North Koreans violated an agreement to leave their nuclear industry dormant.

In her prepared remarks, Pelosi chastised the administration for turning away from international alliances in its conduct of foreign policy. "Over the past two years, we have too often tested that reservoir of good will toward us by saying and doing things that show disregard for our friends," she said.

"When we withdraw from the biological weapons convention and the Kyoto treaty without discussion and without an alternative, we communicate far more than our positions on arms control or global warming."

Pelosi said three principles should govern America's use of power. The nation "is strongest when we work with our friends and allies," she said. Additionally, "America must use power to promote long-term peace and security."

Finally, she said America "must engage with those who aspire to democratic values. ... We should not accept the false choices among protecting our national security, promoting economic opportunity and advancing human rights."

Pelosi's remarks on Iraq were in keeping with her long-held views. She voted against legislation last fall that authorized the use of force to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

"Before going to war, we must exhaust all alternatives, such as the continuation of inspections, diplomacy and the leverage provided by the threat of military action," she said.

On Thursday, she told reporters at a news conference that if Bush does launch military action, she hopes he will first win approval of another resolution from the U.N. Security Council.