Bush urges leaders to unite vs. N. Korea

Iran Materials 6 July 2006 11:09 (UTC +04:00)

(AP) - President Bush urged world leaders Wednesday to stand united in demanding that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons program, saying the communist nation remains a threat even though its long-range missile plunged into the sea seconds after liftoff.

The administration said North Korea's barrage of seven test missiles further walled off the reclusive nation from the rest of the world, reports Trend.

"One thing we have learned is that the rocket didn't stay up very long and tumbled into the sea, which doesn't, frankly, diminish my desire to solve this problem," Bush said.

The South Korean press reported Thursday that the North had three or four more missiles on launch pads ready to be fired. The South's defense minister warned that additional missiles might be tested, according to one of the reports.

The U.N. Security Council met in emergency session a day after the test of the long-range missile. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the council must send a "strong and unanimous signal" that North Korea's missile tests were unacceptable.

Bush addressed the issue in a subdued manner without the harsh warnings he had issued last week threatening unspecified repercussions.

"It's their choice to make," Bush said in the Oval Office following a meeting with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

"I am deeply concerned about the plight of the people of North Korea," the president said. "I would hope that the government would agree to verifiably abandon its weapons programs."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said U.S. interest in the launch of the Taepondong-2 missile goes beyond the missile's possible reach to the American continent. "Certainly we have an alliance with Japan and we have an alliance with the Republic of Korea," Rumsfeld said.

At the United Nations, Japan, backed by the United States and Britain, circulated a resolution that would impose sanctions against North Korea and call for a return to six-party talks on its nuclear program. But China and Russia, which both have veto power on the Security Council, said they favored a weaker statement.

Bush reiterated his view in phone calls Wednesday night with the leaders of South Korea and Japan, stressing the need for a unified response in the United Nations and elsewhere to the North's missile tests, the White House said in a statement. He also told the leaders that he seeks a diplomatic solution through the six-party talks, which had sought to deal with North Korea's nuclear ambitions but were suspended last fall.

Earlier Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conducted urgent talks on the phone with foreign ministers in China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.

After meeting with Rice, South Korea's national security adviser, Song Min-soon, said the two agreed the test firings were a serious provocation to regional and international stability, but that diplomacy was the way forward.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill was sent to Beijing and then on to speak with officials in South Korea, Japan and Russia.

The White House sought to play down the significance of the missile tests.

"There are attempts to try to describe this in almost breathless World War III terms," presidential press secretary Tony Snow said. "This is not such a situation."

U.S. officials appeared perplexed by North Korea's actions.

"I can't really judge the motivations of the North Korean regime, I wouldn't begin to try," Rice told reporters.

Snow said North Korea may launch one or two other short- to medium-range missiles. "There may be a possibility of others, but honestly, we don't know what to expect."

Bush said the Defense Department was analyzing the tests, trying to figure out why North Korean leader Kim Jong Il fired the long-range rocket.

"It's hard to understand his intentions," Bush said. "It's hard to understand why he would not only fire one missile that failed," but the others.

South Korea officials and others, including Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa., urged the United States to conduct one-on-one negotiations with North Korea. The administration dismissed the idea in favor of continuing multilateral diplomacy.

"It is my hope that the United States will negotiate directly with the North Koreans ... and try to resolve our differences in a dignified way and I think that will happen," Specter said. "I don't think anybody wants to set off a nuclear war."

Bush said the best way to solve the problem diplomatically is for there to be more than one nation speaking to North Korea and more than just America voicing concern. "It's more effective for them to hear from a group of nations rather than one nation," Bush said.

Added Snow: "If it was the desire of Kim Jong Il to turn this into a two-party negotiation or standoff between the United States and North Korea, he blew it," Snow said. "Instead, what has happened is that the United States continues to work with its allies in the region."

China, Hill's first stop, is an important provider of aid to impoverished North Korea, and one of few countries with significant influence over the North. Last week, China's premier urged North Korea to refrain from the long-range missile test.

Since the crisis over North Korea's nuclear programs emerged in late 2002, China largely has refrained from threats to halt the fuel and food deliveries and bank credits that sustain the North. The Chinese are believed to be reluctant to take steps that could cause North Korea to collapse, partly out of concern that some 20 million North Koreans might flee to China.