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US will not attack North Korea - Rice
Updated: 2005-07-09 08:42

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent a clear message to North Korea that Washington has no intention of attacking the nation as she embarked on an Asian trip to ease a nuclear crisis in the Korean peninsula.

Rice also said the United States had no "timetable" for North Korea to return to stalled multilateral negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program and would "keep opening doors" in a bid to jumpstart the talks.

North Korea has persistently cited "US hostility" as a key reason for boycotting the six-party talks -- among the United States, Japan, China, South Korea, North Korea and Russia -- and had demanded a clear security guarantee from Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signs a book of condolences at the British Embassy in Washington July 7, 2005.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signs a book of condolences at the British Embassy in Washington July 7, 2005. [Reuters]
"The key here is that there were some important things to say -- important to reiterate (President George W. Bush's) pledge given back in 2002 in South Korea that the United States has no intention of attacking or invading" North Korea, Rice said.

The United States also considers North Korea a sovereign nation, she told reporters accompanying her on the plane to China, Thailand, South Korea and Japan.

"It was important to state what we consider to be a statement of fact that the United States considers North Korea a sovereign state -- after all, the North Koreans are members of the UN and (have) held negotiations along with other sovereign states," she said.

Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il said his country would come back to the six-party talks in July if the United States "recognizes and respects" his country as a dialogue partner.

North Korea had rejected a US-led aid-for-disarmament proposal at the last round of the talks in June 2004 that required Pyongyang to give an upfront pledge to dismantle all its nuclear programs before receiving any energy and other assistance.

Pyongyang wants a step by step approach to weaning away from its nuclear program, fearing it could come under attack by the United States if it loses the nuclear card.

The United States was part of the security guarantee given to North Korea by the five other parties at the nuclear talks but Pyongyang had complained there was no individual guarantee from Washington.

As if to address this concern, Rice said Friday: "There are principles on the table that the United States has no intention to invade or attack North Korea.

"I think if they heard from the United States, they would certainly believe that would be in the security assurances of any of the other parties," she said.

Efforts to break the impasse in the nuclear crisis that had gripped the Korean peninsula for some two and a half years is clearly expected to dominate Rice's Asian trip.

She will first visit China, the host of the six-party talks, and then to tsunami-hit Thailand before returning to Northeast Asia for talks with key Asian allies Japan and South Korea.

This is Rice's second trip to China, South Korea and Japan in some three months and analysts see it as a reflection of Washington's eagerness to see an end to the nuclear turmoil, viewed as Asia's biggest security problem.

Despite more than a year of frantic diplomatic efforts by the other five parties, Rice said she dare not guess the prospect of North Korea returning to the talks and emphasized that no deadlines would be set.

"In terms of optimism or pessimism, I don't know how to judge the prospects," she said.

"We are very focused on how to make this work. There isn't any set mind -- as the President (Bush) said, no timetable about what to do next.

"I am going to really try to focus and take stock on where we are and see if we can make this work," she added.

Rice also said that the United States would not allow nuclear power energy aid to North Korea if it agreed to dismantle its atomic programs.

"It is very clear that there are attendant proliferation risks with nuclear power that are hard to minimize given the history with North Korea.

"And obviously the proliferation risks (linked) to nuclear power are very great and it is one of our concerns all along," she said.

The nuclear standoff flared in October 2002 when Washington accused Pyongyang of operating a nuclear weapons program based on enriched uranium in violation of a 1994 agreement.

On February 10 this year, North Korea announced it had nuclear weapons.

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