Washington (AFP) Oct 10, 2006
The White House on Tuesday rebuffed criticism that failed US diplomacy led to North Korea's nuclear test, while downplaying the significance of Pyongyang's blast, which rattled the world. White House spokesman Tony Snow branded criticism faulting the US approach for failing to bridge differences with North Korea, Iran and Iraq and leading to the world-stunning test announced by Pyongyang Monday as "back-seat generalship".
"What you have is the fact that the United States has been engaged actively on all three problems ... We are continuing to work aggressively on diplomacy with the Iranians and with the North Koreans," Snow said.
Snow responded to comments especially from opposition Democrats that the administration of President George W. Bush had taken the wrong approach to dealing with perceived global threats, as signified by the North Korean nuclear test, which came after years of attempts to convince Pyongyang to not develop a bomb.
"What it tells you is that we started at the wrong end of the axis of evil," said former Democratic senator Sam Nunn, referring to Bush's designation for Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
And North Korean specialist Selig Harrison, writing in the Washington Post, said US sanctions on North Korea have "given the initiative to hardliners in Pyongyang."
The criticism appeared to put the White House on the defensive, coming as it did exactly four weeks before legislative elections. Pollsters say Democrats may have a chance to possibly end Republican control of Congress due to voter discontent over the Iraq war and other security issues.
"Diplomacy had run its course when it came to Iraq," Snow said.
"We are still hopeful that diplomacy is in fact going to yield the desired results when it does come to North Korea and Iran."
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack also rejected the idea that the US policy can be blamed for Pyongyang's first nuclear weapons test.
"The North Korean regime has been developing a nuclear weapon for decades," he said.
Snow meanwhile downplayed the significance of the test, despite the strong international reaction.
"A massive event?" Snow said in response to a question at a White House briefing. "A big-deal event? There was an event... The earth moved, we can say that," he said.
He added that the United States did not have confirmation of a nuclear weapon test.
"This may take some time. It's a complex undertaking, and it involves questions like, was there venting or was there not," Snow said. "There is a remote possibility that we'll never be able to determine fully."
But he added: "It does not change our view that this is an act of provocation, nor does it change the view, more importantly, of our partners in the neighborhood, who view it much the same way."
Snow spoke of a "new sense of resolution" among US partners in dealing with North Korea, especially China and South Korea, who have joined the US, Russia, Japan in six-way talks with Pyongyang over halting its nuclear program.
"Everybody is on the same page in terms of talking about sanctions," Snow declared.
Earlier he brushed off calls by some analysts to accept North Korea's request for bilateral talks on its nuclear program.
"If we're to deal one-on-one, we'd be playing a weaker hand, and the president is not going to play a weaker hand. Because the notion of dealing on one-on-one, again, gives the North Koreans a chance to try to split a united coalition.
"We have less leverage than these guys (the Chinese and South Koreans) do. We have now brought into the diplomatic process the people who can make a difference.
"The most significant factor from a diplomatic standpoint is that you got a lot more diplomatic muscle than you've ever had on either of these problems."
McCormack also rejected bilateral talks with Pyongyang.
"In a bilateral discussion with North Korea, all of a sudden all the pressure is on the United States to make concessions," McCormack said. "It's not a strong hand from which to start."
He said that former president Bill Clinton's administration negotiated with North Korea to little effect.
"They negotiated an agreement with them. And the North Koreans were cheating on it almost as soon as the ink was dry on the thing," he said.
earlier related report
The Japanese government remains sceptical as to whether North Korea did conduct a nuclear test on Monday.
"We've launched T-4 planes of the Air Self-Defense Force to monitor radioactive materials in the air," Mamoru Kotaki, press secretary of the Defense Agency, told reporters.
The planes collected dust in the skies over the major Japanese islands of Kyushu, Honshu and Hokkaido at an altitude of about 3,000 meters (9,800 feet), the report said.
The material will be assessed for up to two weeks in a bid to verify North Korea's announcement that it had tested its first atom bomb, officials said.
"But even if they do not detect any unnatural radioactive materials, it would be hard to declare that Pyongyang's nuclear test a failure as it was presumably conducted underground," Defense Agency spokeswoman Yoko Yato told AFP.
"It is hard to say," if there has been a successful nuclear test as North Korea claims, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in parliament.
The United States has also been cautious about confirming North Korea's nuclear announcement.
South Korean officials said Tuesday they believed North Korea's claim was genuine, but they planned to borrow hi-tech equipment from Sweden to test the atmosphere for radioactive particles.
Nuclear Missile Launch Not Good For North Korean Security Says Rice
"We hope the situation will be settled before an unhappy incident of us firing a nuclear missile occurs," South Koreea's Yonhap news agency quoted the unidentified North Korean official in Beijing as saying.
Asked about the comment during an interview on CNN, Rice suggested the isolated regime new better than to carry out such a threat.
"I think the North Koreans know that firing a nuclear missile would not be good for North Korea's security," she said.
"The North Koreans are not confused about what would happen," she said.
North Korea on Monday claimed to have carried out its first test explosion of a nuclear device, unleashing off a tempest of international condemnation and setting off moves at the United Nations to impose sanctions on Pyongyang.
In her interview, Rice also reaffirmed that the United States was not considering military action against North Korea, a possibility the communist regime has frequently cited as a justification for its nuclear arms program.
"The United States doesn't have any intention to attack North Korea or invade North Korea," she said.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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