WASHINGTON – North Korea's seven missile tests further boxes Pyongyang into a corner without sympathy from the rest of the world, President Bush said Wednesday from the Oval Office.
But the international community still wants the communist nation to return to the negotiating table, he said.
"The world, particularly those of us in the six-party talks had asked for that not to happen as a matter of good faith. The government made a different decision, it's their choice to make," Bush said, referring to the negotiating team that includes China , Russia, Japan and South Korea.
"The North Korean government can join the community of nations and improve its lot by acting in concert with those of us who believe she shouldn't possess nuclear weapons and those of us who believe there's a positive way forward," Bush said during a press briefing with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.
Calling North Korea's missile test "a clear provocation," White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said earlier in the day that the administration is not going to turn the recent action into a one-on-one battle between Washington and Pyongyang.
The global community has made its disgust known, and though the steps to be taken to punish North Korea have not been decided yet, they will occur in the framework of a collective response, he said.
"What the United States has done is created within the neighborhood a diplomatic consensus that did not previously exist, and also now has a unity of purpose among the members of that community to try to make sure that North Korea's ambitions, whatever they may be, if they are hostile, get bottled up so that it is possible for that region to enjoy security and peace," Snow said.
Refusing to detail what forms of retribution the international community may take, Snow noted that it has to be done in a way that achieves the objective of changing the leadership's behavior.
"You don't want to punish the North Koreans; they have been punished enough by their government ... Here you have the 'dear leader' living in splendor while the people are living in squalor," Snow said, noting that 2 million people have died from starvation in the last decade while President Kim Jong Il has built palaces for himself.
"I'm sure that they are trying in very practical terms to figure out the best way to have influence on that government or to have influence with people who are going to have influence with the government," he said.
Bush said: "What the firing of these rockets has done is isolated themselves further, and that's sad for the people of North Korea. I am deeply concerned about the plight of the people of North Korea. I would hope that the government would agree to verifiably abandon its weapons programs."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said diplomatic efforts in the framework of ongoing six-party talks remain the preferred method for approaching North Korea.
"The international community does have at its disposal a number of tools to make it more difficult for North Korea to engage in this kind of brinksmanship and to engage in the continued pursuit of its nuclear weapons programs and of its missile programs," Rice said during remarks with the Turkish Foreign Minister in Washington, D.C.
Rice said she thought the North Koreans "may have, perhaps, have miscalculated that the international community would remain" unified. Talks are now occurring around the world, including in the U.N. Security Council and at NATO, the military alliance that spans from the United States throughout Europe.
"I can't really judge the motivations of the North Korean regime, I wouldn't begin to try," she said. But, Rice added, it will "be incumbent on the North Koreans to use" the six-party infrastructure to address its issues with the world.
Rice said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill is on his way Wednesday night to meet with members of the six-party talks in each of their capitals. Pyongyang is not on that schedule.
Hill told reporters Wednesday that the size of one of the missiles launched by Pyongyang leads him to believe they are "obviously perfecting a delivery system and ... probably testing a WMD delivery system."
The test-firings of seven missiles — including a long-range missile designed to reach U.S. soil — began as America celebrated the Fourth of July. It raised the stakes in a nuclear crisis and pressured the United States and its partners to push penalties, which could include withholding food, fuel and technology. North Korea fired a seventh missile early Wednesday, after the initial round of world reaction.
Snow said the U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for defending U.S. territory, has concluded with a high degree of confidence that North Korea's test of the long-range Taepodong-2, believed capable of reaching American soil, failed within a minute after liftoff, and was not aborted.
But a senior Bush administration official said the North Koreans have more missiles ready for launch. The official also appeared intrigued by one fact pertaining to Tuesday's launch: "The first two weren't launched from the facility we expected, but from the coast."
Bush said the fact that the long-range Taepodong-2 missile "tumbled into the sea ... doesn't frankly diminish my desire to solve this problem."
Unlike during previous North Korean missile launches, the U.S. military now has a missile defense system. A couple of weeks ago, when the United States learned that the North Koreans were preparing to launch a Taepodong-2, U.S. officials said the U.S. missile defense system was "operational," meaning it was ready for possible use in the event of a threatening North Korean missile launch. The officials said at the time that the administration was considering circumstances under which it might try to shoot down a North Korea missile.
But Snow was questioned by reporters about Bush's mild reaction to the provocation. Early in his administration, Bush named North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, in his "axis of evil."
Yet, the president had not spoken in public about North Korea's creating an international incident until nearly 24 hours after the first missile was fired. Early Wednesday, the president visited a Dunkin Donuts to discuss immigration and met with his National Security Council about Cuba.
"They're testing these missiles because they want to put a nuclear warhead on these missiles and attack" other countries, including the United States, said Democratic strategist Kirsten Powers. "The White House is really trying to play it down saying it's not that big a deal, saying it's not a failed policy when in fact it has been ignoring this problem."
"The American officials have said that if the North Koreans proceed with a test, there are going to be consequences," said Robert Einhorn, former assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation in the Clinton administration and chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea from 1996 to 2000.
"If there aren't consequences, the Bush administration is going to look like a paper tiger," said Einhorn, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
But administration supporters say the reaction should not be greater than the provocation
"The failure of the Taepodong shows their missile talk is greater than their capability," said Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, who urged sustained diplomacy to defuse rising tensions.
What are the Democrats calling for today? War?" asked Republican strategist Terry Holt. "Engagement is exactly what it takes."
Holt noted that the North Koreans "maybe shot themselves in the foot with these missile launches ... putting their prestige on the table" and ending up with the international community turning its back on them.
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, called the test shots an ill-advised move by "an incredibly immature regime in the North."
FOX News' James Rosen and Teri Schultz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.