WASHINGTON – The United States is committed to finding a diplomatic answer to the North Korean problem and, despite harsh rhetoric by high U.S. officials, is not trying to end communist leader Kim Jong Il's (search) rule, Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said.
Upcoming six-way talks over North Korea's nuclear ambitions can allay the North's suspicions about a possible U.S. invasion without a nonaggression pact between the two countries as Kim's government has demanded, said Powell.
In an interview with selected U.S. media outlets, Powell was asked about Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's (search) comment in early summer that Kim's administration was "teetering on the edge of economic collapse." Wolfowitz said that could be used as "a major point of leverage" against Kim.
"I don't have a basis for saying there is an imminent collapse," Powell said in the interview, which the State Department made public Sunday.
"Right now there is a government there. It's been there for a lot of decades, and that's what I have to deal with," Powell said. "What the situation would be following a catastrophic collapse, I don't really know. I don't think it's anything that any of North Korea's neighbors at the moment wish to see."
He said diplomacy is U.S. policy as it tries to force North Korea to back away from its nuclear arms policy. North Korea is thought to have one or two weapons now and to have the ability to manufacture several more after reprocessing 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods.
"Our policy, the president's policy, is to work diplomatically with our partners and the North Koreans to find a diplomatic political solution," Powell said in the interview Friday.
North Korea has one of the world's most austere political and economic systems, described last week by Undersecretary of State John Bolton (search) as a place where "life is a hellish nightmare" for most people.
That comment, and a Bolton description of Kim as a "tyrannical dictator," prompted a North Korean announcement Sunday that it would not consider Bolton a member of the U.S. delegation to the six-nation talks.
"Such human scum and bloodsucker is not entitled to take part in the talks," said a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, according to the North's official KCNA news agency.
Bolton's specialty is the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which is the crux of the U.S.-North Korean dispute.
Food aid kept hundreds of thousands of North Koreans alive during famines of the 1990s, and Powell said the pending talks could lead to more U.S. help for "the people of North Korea." But he denied that the Bush administration used the critically important aid to lure Kim into dropping his demand for U.S.-North Korean negotiations on Friday and accepting the multilateral format.
No date has been set for the talks, which probably will be in Beijing and will include the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.