WASHINGTON – With renewed assurances by President Bush that he will not order an attack on North Korea, worried Asian allies were resuming talks Tuesday on how to defuse a nuclear crisis that is threatening their security.
Bush said the United States was open to dialogue with Pyongyang, but he also told reporters at the White House on Monday that North Korea must permit international monitoring of its nuclear program.
"We have no intention of invading North Korea," Bush said, renewing an assurance that so far has failed to deter North Korea from taking steps to build new nuclear weapons.
High-level South Korean and Japanese delegations met for a second day at the State Department to share their concerns with U.S. officials. The two allies could be vulnerable to North Korean missiles and are seeking a diplomatic solution.
Bush said North Korea must keep the pledge it made to the United States in 1994 not to build new nuclear weapons.
"We will have dialogue," he said, but "we expect people to keep their word."
South Korea has proposed a compromise in which the United States would guarantee North Korea's security in exchange for a renewed freeze on North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
The administration has steered clear of publicly embracing the South Korean overture, though State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "We will be listening carefully."
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, "We view this as an issue that we need to work together on, and work shoulder to shoulder on."
Before the talks opened Monday, the United Nations nuclear agency approved a U.S.-supported statement that deplored North Korea's decision to block international inspection of its newly energized nuclear program.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said "the international community is ready to cooperate" with North Korea. But, he said on PBS' "NewsHour," "if they continue a policy of defiance then there is no deal."
"Nobody is willing to negotiate with them under duress or under nuclear brinkmanship," ElBaradei said.
The resolution, approved in Vienna by 35 countries ranging from China to Cuba, did not set a deadline for the North to readmit inspectors and put cameras and other equipment back in place.
ElBaradei said he hoped for a reply "in the next few days," while Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf said he expected North Korea's defiance would be reported to the Security Council.
This could lead to worldwide sanctions against the economically hard-pressed Pyongyang government. Wolf said North Korea was the first country to unilaterally dismantle safeguards against nuclear proliferation and "we would expect they would pay attention to the broad concern" of the international community.
But North Korea went on the diplomatic offensive, accusing the United States of plotting nuclear war. "If the U.S. unleashes a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula it will not escape its destruction," the official Korean Central News Agency said.
North Korea warned the world Tuesday against leveling sanctions against it, saying "sanctions mean a war, and the war knows no mercy."
The Bush administration was determined to forge a united front against North Korea, and plans to send Undersecretary of State John Bolton to China in late January to try to enlist Chinese support.