Rice Calls Nuke Test 'Provocative Act'


Oct 3, 7:01 PM (ET)

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday a North Korean nuclear test would be "a very provocative act," and she prodded Asian nations to rethink their relationships with the North Koreans.

The top U.S. diplomat said the United States would have to assess its options should such a test be carried out, but she did not elaborate.

"It would be a very provocative act by the North Koreans," Rice said during a press conference in Cairo, second stop on a Middle East tour. "They have not yet done it, but it would be a very provocative act."

Rice's warning reflected widespread concern within the Bush administration. She stressed, however, that a North Korean test was an issue "for the entire neighborhood" and not just for the United States.

"A North Korean nuclear test ... would create a qualitatively different situation on the Korean peninsula," Rice said. "I think that you would see that a number of states in the region would need to reassess where they are now with North Korea."

The remarks appeared directed primarily at China and South Korea.

White House spokesman Dana Perino complained about North Korea's "provocative announcement" and said other countries should join in pressing Pyongyang to avoid testing.

A test "would be directly contrary to the interests of all of North Korea's neighbors and to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region," Perino said in a written statement.

The United States has long urged China, Pyongyang's only ally, to exert more pressure on North Korea to return to stalled diplomatic talks.

South Korea, divided from its northern neighbor for more than 50 years, has sought better relations and eventual reunification. Seoul is a key U.S. ally but often tries to smooth over rhetorical and other disputes between Washington and Pyongyang.

Pyongyang has said it has nuclear weapons, but it has not conducted any test known to outsiders to prove its claim. South Korea's spy agency has said the North could test a nuclear bomb at any time.

North Korea announced Tuesday that it would conduct a nuclear test in the face of what it claimed was "the U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war." The statement from Pyongyang gave no precise date when a test might occur.

The North regularly uses the United States as a foil, and has used similar language in the past. The latest threat may carry more weight, however, because it follows the test-firing of seven missiles in July, including one believed to be capable of reaching the United States.

Although the long-range missile failed during flight, tests of both a nuclear device and a missile theoretically able to deliver it to U.S. shores would give the North considerable bargaining power.

The U.S. and its allies have been trying to lure the North back to stalled international efforts to persuade Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear weapons program.

The North has pushed for direct talks with the United States, something Washington says it will not do outside the framework of the stalled six-nation talks. The North has refused to return to the disarmament talks because of U.S. financial restrictions imposed for its alleged illegal activity, including money laundering and counterfeiting.

Many experts believe the North has enough radioactive material to build at least a half-dozen or more nuclear weapons.

"They are an active proliferator," said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "And were they to test and were they then to proliferate those technologies we'd be living with a proliferator and obviously we'd be living in a somewhat different world."

Rumsfeld, in Managua, Nicaragua, for meetings with Central and South American foreign ministers, declined to say whether Pyongyang's announcement had triggered any changes in the U.S. alert status.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the U.S. would bring up North Korea's statement for discussion in a regular meeting of the U.N. Security Council. The Council is expected to talk about it on Wednesday.

Bolton said the Council should embark on "preventive diplomacy" and not just a "knee-jerk reaction" to the North Korean threat.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said a North Korean nuclear test would be an "unacceptable threat to peace and stability" and further isolate North Korea from the rest of the world.

The U.S. and other countries have imposed financial sanctions on Pyongyang.

Vice Adm. John Morgan, the Navy's chief of strategy and plans, told reporters that a possible test is "something we're very concerned about. We think there needs to be a diplomatic solution to this. We think the international community is working hard to achieve that."