Rice confident that U.S. allies will stand firm on sanctions against North Korea

Monday, October 16th 2006, 2:17 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that U.N. sanctions on North Korea should serve as a clear warning to the communist regime that the international community is united in opposing its nuclear ambitions, and that Iran should take heed that it could face a similar rebuke.

Previewing her upcoming trip to the region, Rice called Security Council sanctions adopted on Saturday ``a very strong resolution'' that she said would punish and further isolate the North Korean regime.

Rice briefed reporters at the State Department on her upcoming trip to Japan, South Korea, China and Russia, which begins on Tuesday. ``The purpose of my trip is to rally the support of our friends and allies'' in the region, she said.

``The world has responded calmly and firmly'' to last week's North Korean nuclear test, Rice added.

The U.S.-sponsored U.N. resolution demands that North Korea eliminate nuclear weapons but rules out military action against the country, as the Russians and Chinese demanded.

It calls on countries to block North Korea from receiving equipment or materials to use to build weapons of mass destruction and other advanced weaponry. It also clamps down on travel for North Koreans involved in the weapons program and freezes many of North Korea's overseas financial assets

While China has been inspecting cargo trucks headed for its communist ally, there have been questions about how strictly it and South Korea will enforce the U.N. resolution. Both countries have significant trade relations with North Korea, whose economy is perpetually on the verge of collapse.

Rice's tone at times was conciliatory.

``Let's give some time to these sanctions to work,'' she said. ``Let's give some time to the diplomacy to work. Let's see if North Korea can be pushed in a different direction. But we've got a much stronger set of tools with which to do that.''

She acknowledged international concerns of escalating the crisis. Countries in the region openly worry that the collapse of North Korea's government could send millions of refugees streaming toward their borders. South Koreans also worry about a conventional attack by their unpredictable neighbor.

``I do hear states saying that they want to be certain that it won't ratchet up conflict. We have no desire to ratchet up conflict either. But we'll have some discussions on precisely how this will be carried out,'' Rice said.

She said her trip was designed to ``rally the support of our friends and allies'' to pressure North Korea to drop its nuclear effort.

She also said the U.S. will seek to increase international cooperation for efforts like the proliferation security initiative, in which the United States and other countries try preventing weapons of mass destruction from reaching rogue nations. Efforts under that program have so far been limited.

Rice also tried prodding China and other countries, saying, ``We expect every member of the international community to fully implement all aspects'' of the U.N. resolution.

She said she did not consider North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons irreversible, noting that a handful of other nations like South Africa and Libya had abandoned their nuclear programs.

``If North Korea reverses course and embraces the path of cooperation, if it makes the strategic choice to dismantle its nuclear weapons completely, verifiably and irreversibly, an entirely new and better future would be open to it and to its people,'' she said.

Rice said the United States was prepared to return to the bargaining table with North Korea and other countries ``without precondition,'' repeating a position the Bush administration has taken frequently. But such talks, she said, ``have to lead someplace'' and not dwell on tangential issues.

Six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program have been in limbo since last November.

``The nonproliferation regime is under strain but it is not broken,'' Rice asserted.

Rice denied that U.S. involvement in Iraq was keeping the administration from giving its full attention to the North Korean nuclear problem. ``We can certainly do more than one thing at a time,'' she said.

Rice pointedly challenged Iran to learn a lesson from the international reaction to the North Korean atomic test.

``The greatest challenge to the nonproliferation regime comes from countries that violate their pledges to respect the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The North Korean regime is one such case, but also so is Iran,'' she said. ``The Iranian government is watching and it can now see that the international community will respond to threats from nuclear proliferation.''

Rice said she expected the Security Council to begin work this week on an Iran sanctions resolution.

Rice also said her trip was aimed at winning support from U.S. allies in northeast Asia for ``a comprehensive strategy'' to handle the confrontation with North Korea.

``As President Bush has made clear, the United States has both the will and capability to meet the full range of our security and deterrent commitments to allies like South Korea and Japan,'' she said. ``This trip is an opportunity to reaffirm our reciprocal obligations.''