WASHINGTON – The United States is pressing China to enforce the U.N. punishment of its ally North Korea ahead of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to Asia for talks meant to ease tensions among countries already on edge from the North's claimed nuclear test.
The chief U.S. diplomat travels to the region Tuesday as sharp divisions arise over enforcing the U.N. Security Council's resolution. China, which voted Saturday for the U.N. penalties, is balking at cargo inspections to prevent trafficking of certain banned weapons and technology.
"I'm quite certain that China is going to live up to its responsibilities," Rice said Sunday, adding she was willing to have "conversations" during her trip on how best to enforce the resolution.
The United States' U.N. ambassador portrayed North Korea's detonation last week as a public humiliation for China, which shares a long border with North Korea and is the North's chief ally and supplier of crucial shipments of food and energy aid.
If China were to cut its support, John Bolton said, it "would be powerfully persuasive in Pyongyang," the North's capital. "They've not yet been willing to do it. I think that China has a heavy responsibility here."
Bolton said North Korea's apparent nuclear test "had to have been humiliating to China. ... And I think we're still seeing that play out."
Rice, who joined Bolton in making the rounds of the Sunday talk shows, plans to visit Asian partners this week to consult about the resolution. "I understand that people are concerned about how it might work so it doesn't enhance tensions in the region, and we're perfectly willing to have those conversations," Rice said.
An embargo against North Korea, she said, "is a very important tool that the international community can use. But we'll want to use it in a way that does not enhance the possibility for open conflict."
Bolton said the United States' concept of the resolution "is that the overwhelming predominance of the inspections would take place in ports or at land crossings or that sort of thing. But the resolution neither increases nor decreases existing authority to interdict on the high seas."
Japan and Australia have pledged immediate enforcement of the penalties and said they were considering harsher measures on their own. South Korea, which has taken a conciliatory approach to the North and has provided its neighbor with aid, said it would abide by the resolution's terms but did not say how.
The U.S.-sponsored resolution demands North Korea eliminate nuclear weapons but rules out military action against the country, as the Russians and Chinese demanded.
After the resolution unanimously passed, North Korea's U.N. ambassador accused council members of a "gangster-like" action that neglects the nuclear threat posed by the United States.
China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, said his country "strongly urges the countries concerned to adopt a prudent and responsible attitude in this regard and refrain from taking any provocative steps that may intensify the tensions."
Meanwhile, a leading Senate Republican urged direct talks with North Korea, as the reclusive nation has sought. But Rice brushed aside such calls, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to six-nation disarmament talks, which have stalled.
"It is so important not to allow this to become a bilateral negotiation, because the North would like nothing better than to simply deal with the United States so that we are the ones that isolate it," Rice said.
Countries such as China and South Korea "that have real leverage will now put enormous pressure on North Korea to come back to" the talks, she said.
Yet Chuck Hagel, the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the United States should not dismiss the idea of one-on-one negotiations with North Korea.
"Great powers engage," Hagel said. "We do need to engage the North Koreans" because the U.N. resolution is weak and limited.
"We are the adult power in the world. It is because of the United States, our action or inaction, that there will be a resolution here," Hagel said.
Should North Korea persist along the path of building a nuclear arsenal, Bolton said, the U.S. will "ratchet up the pressure, make it clear that their international isolation is only going to increase, and we're going to make it, to the extent we can, impossible for them to continue the program."
Critics said the U.N. penalties will not curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions and stemmed from what they saw as President George W. Bush's failed foreign policy.
Democratic Sen. John Kerry said the Bush administration is "living in a complete fantasy with respect to the foreign policy they put in place. It is a failure." He said U.S. involvement in Iraq has undermined America's credibility to deal with nuclear threats in North Korea and Iran.