Washington, Dec. 29 (Reuters): The US today sought to discourage talk of crisis and conflict with North Korea and said it was ready to wait months to see if diplomacy could persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programmes.
US secretary of state Colin Powell said in television interviews that the US was not mobilising any forces nor planning any military attack on North Korea. “I don’t want to create a sense of crisis or that we’re on the brink of war, because I don’t believe we are,” Powell told the ABC programme This Week.
“We are not planning a preemptive strike. The United States has a full range of capabilities — political, economic, diplomatic and, yes, military. But we are not trying to create a crisis atmosphere by threatening North Korea,” he told NBC television’s Meet the Press.
“Military action is always an option, but it is not an option that is in the forefront of our thinking right now, because it doesn’t seem necessary or appropriate. There are no forces being put on alert on either side,” he told ABC.
But Powell also ruled out immediate negotiations with the North Koreans, arguing that would reward Pyongyang for violating international agreements. Washington continues to have contact with North Korea through third parties, he added.
North Korea last week told UN nuclear inspectors to leave the country as it pressed on with plans to reactivate the mothballed Yongbyon facility, 90 km north of the capital. The plant can produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.
The North Koreans say they need the plant to generate electricity, replacing fuel oil withheld by the US, but Powell said it was too small to make a difference.
North Korea’s defiance of international opinion has invited comparisons with Iraq, which is under threat of US attack if it does not meet UN disarmament requirements.
But the Bush administration has tried to discourage the comparison, arguing that Iraq has defied the UN for years and that it cannot be sure that North Korea is planning to use the Yongbyon facility for military purposes.
Powell said the US was committed to diplomatic efforts in both cases and, in the case of North Korea, would take account of the views of its Asian allies. “We are monitoring it carefully... We have months to watch this unfold, and see what happens.”
US officials said yesterday that Washington favoured what they called a “tailored containment” strategy including economic pressure and possibly stopping North Korea’s missile exports by intercepting them at sea.
Powell did not elaborate on any economic measures and he avoided a question on intercepting missile exports. “We would intercept anything we think deserved to be intercepted,” he said.
The US and Spain intercepted a ship carrying North Korean Scud missiles in the Arabian Sea this month but Washington let the shipment go on to Yemen when it determined it had no legal grounds for confiscating the cargo.