US wants tough response to North Korea

Obama to discuss atomic test with Medvedev, Gates visits Singapore; Clinton warns of consequences.

clinton 248.88 (photo credit: )
clinton 248.88
(photo credit: )
The Obama administration on Wednesday sought more international support for its tough stance on North Korea as US officials revealed plans for a presidential meeting with Russian leaders on the matter in July and pressed for a cohesive front later this week during a meeting of Far East defense ministers. The White House national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, said Wednesday night that US President Barack Obama will discuss North Korea's recent atomic test and other belligerent actions during a summit in Moscow with Russian President Dimitri Medvedev. "We will be in close consultation with our friends," Jones said during a speech delivered to the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based foreign policy group. As Jones spoke, Defense Secretary Robert Gates took on the delicate task of reassuring Asian allies of US support without further provoking the communist government. Gates flew to Singapore on Wednesday for meetings with foreign ministers aimed at firming up a unified response to the North Korean atomic test. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton used tough language that contrasted with statements from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs that dismissed North Korean "saber-rattling." "North Korea has made a choice," Clinton said. "It has chosen to violate the specific language of the UN Security Council Resolution 1718. It has ignored the international community. It has abrogated the obligations it entered into through the six-party talks. And it continues to act in a provocative and belligerent manner toward its neighbors. There are consequences to such actions." Jones, in his first speech as head of Obama's National Security Council, echoed those sentiments but added that North Korea's greatest threat comes from spreading its nuclear technology "to other countries and potentially to terror organizations and non-state actors." The government in Pyongyang still has "a long way to go" to weaponize its nuclear material, Jones said. "Nothing that the North Koreans did surprised us. We knew they were going to do this," he said. "The question is, what do you do to bring about a change in behavior in North Korea?" A key to the answer, Jones said, will be US efforts to consult with Russia and China to develop a consensus on how best to deal with the issue so that it will send a signal to other nuclear-armed nations - such as Iran. Along those lines, Gates plans similar discussions with defense ministers and military officials from South Korea, Japan and other Far East nations. The talks had already been planned, but US officials said North Korea's bomb and missile tests and heated rhetoric would now dominate the discussions. Nicholas Szechenyi, a northeast Asia policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Gates would likely focus on the security agreement and other programs to stem nuclear proliferation while in Singapore. But Szechenyi said many steps by Washington to hobble Pyongyang likely would not be taken any time soon. Szechenyi said joint US-South Korea maritime exercises would probably not happen immediately. "You want to respond to North Korea but not provoke them," he said. South Korea had resisted joining the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative, a network of nations seeking to stop ships from transporting materials used in nuclear bombs. It joined the coalition after Monday's bomb test - a move that North Korea described Wednesday as akin to a declaration of war. US military officials said Wednesday there are signs of activity at North Korea's partially disabled nuclear reactor complex that could indicate work to restart the facility and resume production of nuclear fuel. One official said steam has been detected at the complex. Like other activity detected at the site, the steam alone is inconclusive, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the methods of collecting information about North Korean activity are sensitive. Any move to restart the plant would be a major setback for international efforts to get North Korea to disarm. North Korea has about 8,000 spent fuel rods which, if reprocessed, could allow it to harvest 6-8 kilogramsof plutonium - enough to make at least one nuclear weapon, experts said. North Korea is believed to have enough plutonium for at least a half-dozen weapons, but experts say it still has not mastered the miniaturization technology required to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.