SINGAPORE – The United States hopes to end the nuclear standoff with North Korea by putting economic pressure on the impoverished nation, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search) said Saturday.
North Korea would respond to economic pressure, unlike Iraq, where military action was necessary because the country's oil money was propping up the regime, Wolfowitz told delegates at the second annual Asia Security Conference (search) in Singapore.
"The country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse," Wolfowitz said. "That I believe is a major point of leverage."
"The primary difference between North Korea (search) and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options in Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil," he said.
Wolfowitz did not elaborate on how Washington intends to put economic pressure on North Korea, but said other countries in the region helping it should send a message that "they're not going to continue doing that if North Korea continues down the road it's on."
He spoke as U.S. lawmakers discussed the standoff with North Korean officials in Pyongyang (search) on Saturday. The lawmakers, led by Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., are the first American officials to visit since the standoff over the North's suspected nuclear program began in October.
North Korea's state-run KCNA (search) news agency said the two sides discussed the dispute, but provided few details. The U.S. lawmakers met North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun and Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, KCNA said.
The delegation is not traveling as envoys of President Bush and were not expected to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (search), who wields almost complete control in the country.
The nuclear crisis began in October when the United States said North Korean officials had admitted having a clandestine, uranium-based nuclear program.
U.S. and North Korean officials met in Beijing last month but there were no reports of progress. The United States said North Korea claimed at Beijing talks that it already has nuclear bombs, but would give up its nuclear programs in return for economic aid and security guarantees.
Before leaving Washington, Weldon said he would tell Pyongyang it could get economic aid if it abandons its suspected nuclear weapons program and improves relations with Washington.