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Powell says many nations threatened by North Korean buildup


WASHINGTON (AP) _ North Korea's nuclear weapons program is threatening Russia, China and South Korea, Secretary of State Colin Powell said in making his case for a regional discussion of Pyongyang's nuclear buildup.

North Korea has rejected the proposal.

Powell usually leaves it up to other countries to describe threats to their security, but he made an exception Thursday in testimony before the House Budget Committee.

Because regional countries have a stake, Powell said it makes no sense to accept North Korea's demand for one-on-one, U.S.-North Korea talks.

But Powell made clear the North Koreans have no interest in regional discussions, describing North Korea's response by saying: ``No, no, no.''

``We have to have a regional settlement. It can't just be the U.S. and the DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea),'' said Powell, making his third appearance before a congressional committee in three days.

Russia, China and South Korea all say they are opposed to the North's nuclear ambitions, but all seem less troubled about it than Washington.

The continuing impasse on North Korea contributed to an atmosphere of deep gloom among House members at a separate hearing Thursday.

``North Korea is the greatest national security threat facing the United States,'' said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif.

Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Neb., said, ``Today we have no good options.''

Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly offered no hint that a resolution was any closer than it was four months ago when the disclosures about Pyongyang's uranium-based nuclear weapons program first surfaced. Pyongyang also appears to be reviving a plutonium-based weapons program.

The Bush administration has been seeking a prompt and verifiable dismantling of these programs.

Bereuter, commenting at a hearing of the House International Relations East Asian and Pacific affairs subcommittee, seemed to rule out the possibility of verification when he alluded to the North's capability of hiding materiel underground.

Without elaborating, Bereuter said the North has stored ``things'' in tunnels that ``number in the five digits.'' An aide said later Bereuter could not be more specific because of the sensitivity of the information.

Bereuter called North Korea ``truly the most evil regime on Earth. A huge percentage of the population lives as virtual slaves or actual slaves.''

Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., said: ``The North Korean leadership doesn't belong in the human race.''

Kelly said the administration was weighing the possibility of declassifying satellite photographs of labor camps that are located in many provinces.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to take up the North Korean issue soon. But Kelly said he doubts that sanctions against the North are in the cards.

He suggested that any tough Security Council action may be more appropriate in two months, after North Korea's announced withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty becomes final.

Kelly said he sees the upcoming council session as a forum to make clear that a number of countries are concerned about Pyongyang's weapons programs, not just the United States.

Sherman, displeased that China is not doing enough to pressure North Korea, suggested that could change if the administration made China pay a price by imposing trade sanctions.

But, he added, the administration has no stomach for that option because ``huge corporate profits are at stake.''

North Korea has said it would consider sanctions an act of war.

Also Thursday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said North Korea may pose a bigger threat as a supplier of nuclear weapons than as a potential aggressor in Asia.

``They sell almost everything,'' Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee. ``They are the world's greatest proliferator of missile technology,'' and hence a problem for more than one nation to solve, he said.
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