Bush rejects idea of U.S.-N. Korean talks


By James Gerstenzang and Maggie Farley
Originally published October 12, 2006

WASHINGTON // President Bush reiterated yesterday that the United States was not prepared to hold one-on-one talks with North Korea over its nuclear program, even as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged him to hold such bilateral negotiations.

Bush also reaffirmed his three-year-old stance that the United States would not tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea but said he was not considering military action and emphasized that his focus was on using diplomacy - through multination talks - to achieve Washington's aims.

His comments followed a threat by North Korea to conduct more nuclear tests, while the Japanese government unilaterally banned North Korean nationals and imports from entering Japan for the next six months.

The president's remarks, at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden, were his first public comments on North Korea since the regime in Pyongyang announced Monday morning that it had exploded a nuclear device. U.S. officials said they are trying to determine whether it was a bomb that North Korea tested or some other device that caused a large explosion.

Whichever it was, Bush said, "this claim itself constitutes a threat to international peace and stability." However, the president appeared to go out of his way to avoid inflammatory language, even as he insisted that North Korea must stand by its commitments to dismantle its nuclear program.

The toned-down approach was intended both for potential partners at the United Nations, and, less than four weeks before the mid-term U.S. congressional elections, for an American electorate grown weary of the Iraq war.

At the United Nations, Annan urged North Korea not to escalate the situation and said the U.S. should talk directly to Pyongyang.

"I have always argued that we should talk to parties whose behavior we want to change, whose behavior we want to influence. And from that point of view, I believe that the U.S. and North Korea should talk," he said. "Whether it is done in the context of the six-party talks or separately, one must talk."

The Security Council continued negotiations on a sanctions resolution, aiming for a vote tomorrow. China said it would support "prudent" sanctions focused mainly on banning the transfer of nuclear and missile technology, but still opposed a provision under Chapter 7 that could open the door to military action to enforce the sanctions.

China would also support a travel ban for senior North Korean officials, diplomats said. Russian negotiators said that they had no instructions from Moscow on the latest revision but are expected to vote with China.

The U.S.-backed resolution includes a financial freeze similar to the American economic sanctions to shut down alleged counterfeiting, money laundering and drug trafficking that has helped fund North Korea's weapons programs. The U.S. and Japan, the sponsors of the resolution, included specific provisions to ensure that civilians and aid groups would not be directly affected by the punitive measures.

Negotiations are stalled on several points, including a measure authorizing the inspection of all cargo going in and out of North Korea in an effort to detect weapons-related material.

North Korea, in its first formal statement since Monday's test announcement, warned new sanctions would be considered an act of war that would bring unspecified "physical corresponding measures," according to the Associated Press. North Korea threatened more nuclear tests yesterday, saying Washington's squeeze on the North Korean economy and its global financial transactions "compelled" the country to explode a nuclear weapon.