WASHINGTON – Top Bush administration officials said Sunday the time still isn't ripe for one-on-one talks with North Korea, despite concerns that North Korea is moving rapidly to develop new nuclear weapons.
Any lasting solution to the North Korean problem will need the support of Russia, China and other nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, said in separate television interviews. North Korea opposes multilateral talks.
"I think eventually we will be talking to North Korea, but we're not going to simply fall into what I believe is bad practice of saying the only way you can talk to us is directly, when it affects other nations in the region," Powell said on a network news channel.
Powell, on Fox News Sunday, said that during his visit to the United Nations last week, he worked with diplomats to develop a multinational approach to North Korea.
Democrats are pressing the Bush administration to begin direct talks immediately. They say that while the administration has been paralyzed by indecision and distracted by Iraq, the threat posed by North Korea has spiraled.
In recent months, North Korea has expelled U.N. monitors, withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and moved to restart a a nuclear reprocessing facility that could produce bombs within months. It is believed to already have one or two bombs.
Most recently, North Korean fighter jets intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance plane and the Pentagon sent 24 bombers to the region. North Korea on Sunday accused the United States of plotting an atomic attack against it.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democratic presidential candidate, called for direct talks to ease tensions.
"We now have a huge problem in North Korea which the president is claiming is a regional crisis. I think it's an enormous world crisis, which isn't being paid enough attention to," Dean said on NBC's Meet the Press.
Rice said the United States isn't afraid to talk, "but we need to do so in a way that will bring maximum pressure on North Korea to actually this time not just freeze its weapons of mass destruction, but begin to dismantle them."
Any incentives for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program "will come from the collective weight of the international community, not just from the United States alone," she said on ABC's This Week.
Powell noted that under a 1994 agreement, North Korea froze its plutonium program, then secretly began a separate uranium enrichment program.
"We can't fall into that trap again of paying them off to stop what they're doing, only to discover that they're doing it again at a later time," he said.