Global Policy Forum

Rice Urges N. Korea to Reconsider Talks


By Robin Wright

Washington Post
February 10, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned North Korea to reconsider its choice to break off disarmament talks Thursday or face deepening isolation from the rest of the world and greater suffering for its people. Responding to North Korea's announcement that it has built nuclear weapons and was abandoning the disarmament talks, Rice outlined stark alternatives if the government of Kim Jong Il does not drop its "unfortunate" boycott. "With our deterrent capability on the Korean peninsula . . . the United States and its allies can deal with any potential threat from North Korea," Rice told a joint press conference with three European Union leaders. "And North Korea, I think, understands that. But we are trying to give the North Koreans a different path."

In separate comments in France, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said the North Korean declaration was worrisome because of the nation's record as a proliferator of ballistic missiles and the dictatorial nature of its government, Reuters news agency reported. But Rumsfeld cautioned that he does not know for sure whether North Korea really possesses nuclear weapons.

Speaking to reporters at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Nice, France, Rumsfeld said, "Given their dictatorial regime and their repression of their own people, one has to worry about weapons of that power in the hands of leadership of that nature. I don't think that anyone would characterize the leadership of that country as being restrained."

Rumsfeld cited North Korea's "behavior pattern" as "probably one of the world's leading proliferators of ballistic missile technology," Reuters reported."One has to be concerned about it from a proliferation standpoint -- if you believe them that they have weapons," Rumsfeld said. "I do not know of certain knowledge that they do. I'm told that today in the press they indicated that they do. But they've indicated other things from time to time that have not necessarily proved out. So I just don't know whether they do."

In Luxembourg, where she is winding up her weeklong diplomatic debut abroad as President Bush's new secretary of state, Rice told reporters that she hopes the United States and its allies in six-party talks with North Korea will confer again soon to resolve the standoff. The other participants in the talks are China, Russia, South Korea and Japan. Referring to North Korea's declaration Thursday that it has built nuclear weapons, Rice said the United States has assumed Pyongyang had a nuclear capability since the mid-1990s. The declaration marked the first time that North Korean has publicly stated that it possesses nuclear arms.

With its new declaration, Rice said Pyongyang is missing an opportunity. The North Koreans "should take the path before them, a path to their reasonable relationship, a path to a better life for their people, a path with security assurances from their neighbors, including from the United States," she told reporters. She pointed out that President Bush had personally offered his assurance that the United States would not use military force as long as North Korea continued to discuss terms to both abandon its nuclear program and disarm whatever weapons it has already produced.

Pressed on why North Korea acted at this time, Rice said, "I'm not sure anyone ever gets very far by trying to second-guess the motivation of the North Korean regime." The last round of talks was last summer, with a round tentatively scheduled for September deferred in large part as North Korea waited to see who won the U.S. presidential election. "The message is clear: give up these aspirations for nuclear weapons and you know life can be different," Rice said. She specifically pointed to Libya, which has given up its weapons of mass destruction programs in exchange for an ending to tough international sanctions.

Rice said the United States and its allies had the same message for Iran. Iranians, she said, could improve relations with the international community if they "are prepared not to go the route of a nuclear weapon, and to dismantle whatever activity might be devoted to a nuclear weapons" under cover of a civilian energy program. Rice leaves Luxembourg today to return to Washington.

Iran Thursday issued conflicting messages in response to the U.S. pressure, warning that any invaders would face a "burning hell," but also suggesting that Iran could reach a deal with European Union negotiators. As tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Tehran to mark the 26th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, President Mohammad Khatami said in a fiery speech, "The Iranian nation does not seek war, does not seek violence and dispute. But the world must know that this nation will not tolerate any invasion." He warned, "The whole Iranian nation is united against any threat or attack," Reuters reported. "If the invaders reach Iran, the country will turn into a burning hell for them." The crowd, braving heavy snow, chanted "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!"

In separate remarks on state television, Hossein Mousavian, one of Iran's top nuclear negotiators, said, "The chance of striking an agreement [with European negotiators] is not small because Iran is quite flexible in this regard." Mousavian, a senior official at Iran's Supreme National Security Council, added, "We welcome any kind of guarantees to prove that Iran will not divert to making bombs in future."

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