WASHINGTON—The United States has stepped up pressure on North Korea, hinting at “other options” for dealing with the reclusive nuclear-armed country. Pyongyang said Monday it had expanded its nuclear arsenal to help prevent a U.S. attack.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested Monday in Beijing that the Pyongyang government could face broader sanctions. “To the degree that a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula gets more difficult to achieve if the North does not [return to six-party talks], then of course we'll have to look at other options,” Rice told reporters.
“Obviously everyone is aware that there are other options in the international system,” Rice said, speaking at the end of a Asian tour that has focused on Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
To the degree that a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula gets more difficult to achieve if the North does not [return to six-party talks], then of course we'll have to look at other options. Obviously everyone is aware that there are other options in the international system.
"In fact, if North Korea is prepared to make a strategic choice, we've said that in the context of six-party talks, there could be security assurances for North Korea," Rice said. "If we cannot find a way to resolve the North Korean issue in this way, then we will have to find other means to do it."
She also said a new Chinese law targeting a possible declaration of independence by Taiwan—which Beijing regards as a breakaway province—underscores the risk of an EU plan to lift a 1989 arms embargo on China.
Neither Rice nor the State Department in Washington would specify what the U.S. fallback position on North Korea might be, but it could include tough economic sanctions through the United Nations.
North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said Monday that the country had “taken serious steps of boosting our nuclear arsenal and we are also prepared to mobilize all of our military force against any provocative moves by the enemy,” according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap.
Separately, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli described resuming six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program as “a top priority for us—it was a subject that was at or near the top of the agenda in all her discussions.”
Ereli declined to speculate on what options Washington might consider should the talks fail, but he said the timetable “is not open-ended. The Secretary said this can’t go on forever.”
A senior U.S. official later said Bush administration officials felt “a sense of urgency” regarding North Korea’s nuclear program. “We’re concerned as this drags on, the threat is not being reduced,” the official said.
We've taken serious steps of boosting our nuclear arsenal and we are also prepared to mobilize all of our military force against any provocative moves by the enemy.
The United States has nearly 33,000 troops across the border in South Korea and is obliged to help defend South Korea should the North attack.
Rice, paying the first high-level U.S. visit to China since President George W. Bush pledged to make spreading democracy a primary aim in his second term, also said she had asked Beijing for more help to bring the North Koreans back into arms talks.
North Korea has not responded to a U.S. proposal to trade guarantees of territorial security for an end to nuclear development, and has given no indication it is ready to bargain further.
Six-way arms talks hosted by China have been on hold since North Korea pulled out last year and later declared that it had already built at least one nuclear weapon.
The five nations participating in the talks with North Korea are China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States. The structure aimed to make clear to North Korea that its neighbors wouldn't tolerate nuclear weapons on the strategic peninsula.
None of the countries talking to North Korea has declared the diplomatic process dead, but Rice discussed that possibility during visits this month to Japan, South Korea, and China.
North Korea test-fired a missile over Japan in 1998, demonstrating Pyongyang's ability to threaten both Japan and about 50,000 U.S. troops deployed there.
Original reporting by RFA's Korean service. Additional reporting in Washington, D.C. by Richard Finney.