U.S. doesn't want N. Korea crisis to escalate, says Rice
SEOUL — Top U.S. and South Korean diplomats on Thursday repeated their urgings for the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program and promised that if the communist country attempted another test, serious consequences would follow.
“A second test by North Korea should not take place,” said South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who recently was elected United Nations Assembly secretary general. If another test were to follow North Korea’s first Oct. 9 nuclear test, “a more serious consequence should follow,” Ban said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice affirmed Ban’s comments during a short news conference Thursday evening at South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and repeated the United States’ insistence that any U.S. meeting with North Korea be through multination talks.
“We want to leave open the path of negotiations,” she said, once again asking North Korea to consider six-way talks with the United States, South Korea and its other neighbors in the region. “We don’t want the crisis to escalate.”
South Korea was the second stop in Rice’s trip through Asia this week in between visits to Japan and China.
Her tour is meant to strengthen existing diplomatic ties with North Korea’s neighbors. But she also was using it to begin discussing how punitive sanctions, passed by the U.N.’s Security Council last weekend, will play out among existing trade and economic agreements.
Rice said neither her visits to the region nor the strong warnings from the U.S. government since the Oct. 9 nuclear test were meant to provoke North Korea.
She said initial reports that the U.N. sanctions would require a blockade or embargo on North Korean goods were exaggerated, an Associated Press reporter traveling with Rice wrote on Thursday.
An international agreement to do inspections at sea for nuclear weapons is in place, Rice said. But South Korea is not among the 80 nations that have signed onto the Proliferation Security Initiative, in part because the south does not want to increase tensions with the north.
The sanctions, which the Security Council approved unanimously on Oct. 14, could be another sticking point for south and north relations. The resolution calls for no trade in weapons, high-end military equipment or luxury goods with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s formal name.
It’s unclear what this could mean for the two Koreas, which have an industrial complex project in the North Korean town of Kaesong that employs North Korean workers to build South Korean goods.
But the New York Times reported Thursday that the government of South Korea told Rice it had no intention of pulling out of the project or the Diamond Mountain tourist resort in North Korea, even though both put hard currency into the pocket of the Pyongyang regime.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.