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U.S. Rebuffs N. Korea's Call For Talks

The United States on Wednesday rejected North Korea's plea for direct talks about a potential missile test, as President Bush said the communist nation faces further isolation if it goes ahead with a launch.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said threats weren't the way to seek dialogue.

"You don't normally engage in conversations by threatening to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles," he said, "and it's not a way to produce a conversation because if you acquiesce in aberrant behavior you simply encourage the repetition of it, which we're obviously not going to do."

"The North Korea missile standoff is going to be harder to resolve because Pyongyang withdrew from the U.N.-based international watchdog agency three years ago," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk, "and Ambassador Bolton's comments reflect the difficulty of responding to North Korea with direct talks as a result of a threat by the government."

Earlier Wednesday, Han Song Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the United Nations, said in reported remarks that Pyongyang was seeking to resolve the possible missile test concerns through talks.

The missile crisis also led former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung on Wednesday to cancel a trip next week to the North that could have offered a rare chance for talks.

South Korea, which has sought reconciliation with the North based on Kim's "sunshine policy" of engagement, also said Wednesday that a missile test could affect Seoul's humanitarian aid to Pyongyang.

Washington was weighing responses to a potential test that could include attempting to shoot the missile down, U.S. officials have said.

"It should make people nervous when non-transparent regimes who have announced they have nuclear warheads, fire missiles," Mr. Bush said after meeting European leaders in Austria. "This is not the way you conduct business in the world."

He said he was encouraged that China had spoken out against the North.

"I'm pleased that they are talking responsibility in dealing with North Korea," Mr. Bush said. "It's a very positive sign."

It wasn't immediately clear what the president was referring to, as Beijing has been reserved in public comments on the issue and merely called on all sides to preserve regional stability.

Bolton said he was continuing discussions with U.N. Security Council members on possible action if North Korea decides to test a missile, and had just met with Russia's U.N. ambassador.

"With North Korea calling for negotiations, the pressure is on all sides to find a diplomatic resolution that gets the government of Pyongyang back to the six-party talks," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk, "particularly because all six nations involved know that any tough action will encounter resistance from China if the issue does reach the U.N. Security Council."

"Because North Korea withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty three years ago, much of the information that has been reported is not confirmed, and North Korea is aware that if the U.S. intercepts a missile, the crisis escalates considerably," added Falk.


There is some question whether the U.S. could intercept a Taepodong-2, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.

If the U.S. decided a North Korean missile was going to hit the U.S., a decision to shoot it down would have to be made in minutes. By then the missile would be in mid course, the only stage of its trajectory during which the U.S. currently has even a limited capability to shoot it down.

There are nine interceptor rockets in Alaska and two in California that could be used, says Martin. Even under test conditions, their record of hitting the target is only 50-50, so several of them would have to be launched to increase the odds.

However, no one thinks North Korea would be so reckless as to actually launch a missile at the U.S., Martin adds.

After a 1998 long-range launch by the North, the Security Council issued a press statement — its mildest comment — but Bolton said there would be a stronger council reaction this time.

"There's no question about it," Bolton told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. "We're seeing broad support for something stronger but we don't want to be in a position where we're predicting the future or doing anything other than making it clear we don't think the launch ought to take place."

"Obviously the priority remains trying to persuade North Korea not to conduct the launch," Bolton said.

North Korea said in comments published Wednesday that its self-imposed moratorium on testing long-range missiles from 1999 no longer applies because it's not in direct dialogue with Washington, suggesting it would hold off on any launch if Washington agreed to new talks.

"Some say our missile test launch is a violation of the moratorium, but this is not the case," Han Song Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the United Nations, told South Korea's Yonhap news agency in an interview from New York.

"North Korea as a sovereign state has the right to develop, deploy, test fire and export a missile," he said. "We are aware of the U.S. concerns about our missile test-launch. So our position is that we should resolve the issue through negotiations."

Pyongyang has consistently pressed for direct dialogue with the United States, while Washington insists it will only speak to the North at six-nation nuclear talks. The North has refused to return to the nuclear talks since November, in anger over a U.S. crackdown on the country's alleged illicit financial activity.

South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok told opposition lawmakers that a missile test could affect Seoul's humanitarian aid to the North.

"If North Korea test fires a missile, it might have an impact on aid of rice and fertilizer to North Korea," Lee said, according to his spokesman Yang Chang-seok.

South Korea has already shipped 150,000 tons of fertilizer this year and had planned to send another 200,000 tons. Pyongyang has asked for 500,000 tons of rice this year, but Seoul has yet to agree.

The European Union appealed Wednesday to the North to cancel its possible launch.

"We must say that what they are trying to do ... will have consequences," EU foreign and security affairs chief Javier Solana said on the sidelines of the European meeting with Mr. Bush.

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