WASHINGTON – The United States passed a warning to North Korea not to conduct a nuclear test, the chief U.S. envoy to stalled disarmament talks with the communist country said Wednesday. "We are not going to live with a nuclear North Korea," he said.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters that the U.S. has sent Pyongyang a message of "deep concern" through diplomatic channels at the United Nations in New York. He said North Korea has yet to respond.
The U.S. message to the communist regime came as it sought to marshal a unified diplomatic front against North Korea's possible nuclear test. American intelligence officials also scrutinized sites that could be used for the test.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. diplomats reached out to their counterparts in Asia and Europe, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said. The effort was intended to send "a strong and unified signal ... that these kinds of threats are certainly not acceptable," he said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. was paying close attention to movement at possible North Korean nuclear test sites. Authorities cautioned, however, against reading too much into every movement during this heightened period of interest.
A U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the highly sensitive situation with North Korea, said the United States is now seeing the movement of people, materials and automobiles and other activity around one possible test site. But, the official said, it could be similar to the activity a couple of months ago. At that time, no test occurred.
The official noted that international observers do not have a baseline for comparison, because North Korea has never performed a nuclear test.
When asked whether the North might be making active preparations for a test, Casey said U.S. officials were looking at "all kinds of information" regarding North Korea, but he declined to provide specifics.
The U.S. has spy satellites and other eavesdropping equipment aimed at North Korea, including ground-based seismic sensors.
Casey also brushed aside questions about specific U.S. responses. "Certainly, we will have to respond accordingly to any actions North Korea takes," he said.
At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton discussed the matter with the Security Council, Casey said, and the United States would "hope to see some action there in the near future."
Casey said he was not aware of any contact between the United States and North Korea through diplomatic channels at the United Nations.
On Tuesday, North Korea triggered global alarm by announcing that it will undertake an unprecedented nuclear test in a step toward building the atomic arsenal it views as a deterrent against any U.S. attack.
In Asia, North Korea's neighbors worked to forge a common front against Pyongyang's threat. Japan, China and South Korea announced a series of summit meetings over the next week to repair damaged ties and coordinate a strategy on North Korea.
While North Korean leader Kim Jong Il may decide to hold the test, it cannot be ruled out that Tuesday's threat is saber-rattling, an effort to force a change in stalled nuclear negotiations or some other motivating factor.
A U.S. government official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said Pyongyang could hold a nuclear test with little or no warning. The calculation, the official said, is political, rather than technical, because North Korea is believed to have such a device.
The North Korean government's public statement gave it an opportunity to gauge what world reaction might be; U.S. authorities are treating the statement with seriousness and do not see it as pure bluster, the official said.
The intelligence community is also considering dates for a possible test that may be of interest to the country's ruler, Kim Jong Il.
Oct. 8, for example, marks the anniversary of Kim Jong Il's ascension as head of the Workers' Party of Korea in 1997. It also would coincide with the likely approval of South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon to become secretary general of the United Nations. Kofi Annan steps down from the post on Dec. 31, and the U.N. Security Council has set Oct. 9 to pick his successor.