Pyongyang Warned on Weapon Testing

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By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 5, 2006

The Bush administration delivered a secret message to North Korea yesterday warning it to back down from a promised nuclear test, and it said publicly that the United States would not live with a nuclear-armed Pyongyang government.

North Korea "can have a future or it can have these weapons. It cannot have both," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill said yesterday in remarks at Johns Hopkins University's U.S.-Korea Institute. It was the toughest response yet from the Bush administration, coming two days after Pyongyang announced plans to conduct its first nuclear test.

Hill did not explain how the administration would respond to a test, but he said it is willing to sit with North Korean officials and diplomats from the region to discuss the crisis. "We will do all we can to dissuade [North Korea] from this test," he said. State Department officials said Hill is considering a trip to Asia to discuss options with key allies.

"We are not going to live with a nuclear North Korea, we are not going to accept it," Hill said. He said the United States had passed along a private warning through North Korea's diplomatic mission to the United Nations in New York.

North Korea is believed to have enough plutonium for as many as 11 nuclear bombs. It announced in February that it had succeeded in building a weapon, although intelligence analysts believe it is still years away from being able to deliver one.

Tuesday's statement did not set a date for a test. Senior intelligence officers and some administration officials said they had no clear signs indicating when one might occur.

"In terms of how much time they need and how far along they are, we don't know if it's even realistic" to test in the near term, said one official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in discussing classified intelligence estimates. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said U.S. officials are looking at "all kinds of information" related to the possibility of a test.

Topographical changes resulting from a test would be visible to U.S. satellites, officials said. The test could also be detected by ground-based seismic sensors, some owned by U.S. intelligence and others by international monitoring stations set up to detect and deter nuclear tests around the world.

Several government analysts suggested that a test could come as early as Sunday, the anniversary of Kim Jong Il's appointment as head of the Korean Workers' Party, in 1997. It may also be timed to coincide with an election at the United Nations on Monday during which Ban Ki Moon, South Korea's foreign minister, is expected to be chosen as the next U.N. secretary general.

In a private phone conversation with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday, Ban offered to mediate between Washington and Pyongyang should he be selected as the next U.N. chief, according to an official briefed on the call.

Bush's top advisers held an emergency meeting about North Korea on Tuesday to review a number of strategies under consideration but came away with little agreement. Officials briefed on the meeting, chaired by national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, said the participants discussed a range of options for restarting talks with Pyongyang and coaxing allies such as China and South Korea to adopt a tough line in the face of threats. "It was the first in a series of meetings we're going to have to hold," said one official who agreed to discuss it on the condition of anonymity. "There has been no major policy shift or change in anything at this point," the official said.

The State Department issued a worldwide communique to foreign governments afterward reiterating the administration's belief that a test would destabilize the region.

At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton discussed the matter with the Security Council, Casey said. The United States hopes "to see some action there in the near future," he added.

But Bolton said that, already, there are disagreements among council members about how to respond and that a Japanese initiative to send a council warning to Pyongyang lacks support.

North Korea's nuclear capabilities have grown significantly during Bush's presidency. When he came into office six years ago, intelligence agencies estimated that North Korea had the capability to make one or two nuclear weapons. As the potential arsenal has grown to as high as 11, the administration has rebuffed calls to sit down directly with North Korea.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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