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Kerry: Bush guilty of N.Korean nuclear crisis
Updated: 2004-09-13 13:26

US Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry accused the Bush administration of letting a "nuclear nightmare" develop by refusing to deal with North Korea when it first came to office.

In a telephone interview with The New York Times, published on its website late on Sunday, Kerry said the current fear that North Korea may be preparing to test a plutonium bomb was a consequence of President George W. Bush's preoccupation with Iraq.

The newspaper said the interview was initiated by the Massachusetts Democrat, who is running against Bush in November's US presidential election.

While officials were still trying determine whether recent activity at a potential nuclear test site in North Korea indicated an upcoming test, Kerry said North Korea's threatening such an action was a sign of failed diplomacy.

"I think that this is one of the most serious failures and challenges to the security of the United States, and it really underscores the way in which George Bush talks the game but doesn't deliver," the Times quoted Kerry as saying.

"They have taken their eye off the real ball," Kerry said of the Bush administration. "They took it off in Afghanistan and shifted it to Iraq. They took it off in North Korea and shifted it to Iraq. They took it off to Russia, and the nuclear materials there, and shifted it to Iraq."

Calling the current nuclear situation in North Korea "a nuclear nightmare," Kerry directly accused Bush of leaving the United States more vulnerable to North Korea, the Times said.

Bush's press secretary Scott McClellan told the Times that Kerry "wants to return to the failed policies of the previous administration, where the US was duped. We've been down that road before and we have no intention of letting it happen again."

Kerry also said the Bush administration's refusal to follow Secretary of State Colin Powell's March 2001 advice to continue the Clinton administration's direct diplomacy with North Korea had created the conditions for the current crisis.

"The week that Colin Powell stood up and said we are going to continue the dialogue with the North Koreans, I said, 'Good,'" Kerry said, recalling the administration's foreign policy rift, months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"And two days later when George Bush pulled the rug out from under Kim Dae Jung," South Korea's then-president, "when he was in the Oval Office, and sent him back both embarrassed and bewildered to South Korea, I said that was both dangerous and the wrong direction for this issue and America."

Asked about how he would handle the threat of a North Korean nuclear test if he became president, Kerry replied that the issue would likely have to be taken to the United Nations Security Council.

"Hypothetical questions are not real," he said, arguing that North Korea was a case for preventive diplomacy and that Bush's "ideologically driven" approach had kept him from truly engaging North Korea. "The Chinese are frustrated, the South Koreans, the Japanese are frustrated," he said.

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