Rumsfeld: N. Korea may have nuclear weapons already
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Korea may have nuclear weapons already after renouncing a 1994 pact to give up its weapons development efforts, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday.
"No one that I would have any confidence in their judgment has touched them, but I believe they have a small number of nuclear weapons," he said.
Rumsfeld based his statement on U.S. intelligence assessments over a period of years.
The White House is "consulting vigorously" with U.S. allies and hopes to reach a "peaceful resolution" with North Korea, following its admission that it has an active nuclear weapons program, senior administration officials said.
"Nobody wants to see a nuclear-armed North Korea," said the official, who did not want to be identified. "We want a peaceful resolution."
North Korea said its program began several years after it signed the so-called Agreed Framework in 1994, promising the United States, Japan, and South Korea that it would freeze its nuclear program, in exchange, the other signatories agreed to provide light-water nuclear technology for power generation.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is in Beijing consulting with Chinese officials, and then will travel to Seoul and Tokyo.
U.S. officials said one short-term option being considered is ending the fuel assistance the United States gives to North Korea as part of the 1994 agreement. (More on U.S. response)
A senior administration official said Washington also was urging governments around the world to reconsider any sales of sophisticated technology to North Korea in light of its admission that it is actively developing nuclear weapons.
At the White House, two U.S. officials said they believe the weapons program existed before the 1994 agreement. North Korea has facilities now capable of enriching uranium and is constructing additional facilities to expand its capacity, they said.
North Korea acknowledged to U.S. officials earlier this month that it has a secret and active nuclear weapons program that began after the 1994 agreement, the White House said Wednesday.
The official said the revelation came in a meeting in Pyongyang between Kelly and a top North Korean official, Kang Suk Ju, described as the equivalent of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's right-hand man.
A senior Bush administration official said Kelly told Kang the United States knows North Korea has a secret uranium-based nuclear weapons program and that it has enough plutonium for at least two nuclear weapons.
The North Korean official then shocked Kelly when he said "something to the effect of, 'Your president called us a member of the axis of evil ... Your troops are deployed on the Korean Peninsula ... Of course, we have a nuclear program,'" according to the senior source who has been briefed on the meeting.
The news emerged as the Bush administration faces a possible military confrontation over Iraq's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. Bush signed a congressional resolution Wednesday authorizing him to take military action against Iraq if diplomatic efforts fail to convince Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to disarm.
Following the North's admission, administration meetings were held about how to respond, culminating in a National Security Council meeting on the issue Tuesday.
U.S. President Bush plans to discuss the issue with Chinese President Jiang Zemin next week when they meet in Crawford, Texas, and with the leaders of Japan and South Korea during the Asian Pacific Economic Summit next weekend in Mexico.
Bush found the news "troubling" and "sobering," Scott McClellan, White House deputy press secretary, told reporters Thursday aboard Air Force One en route to Atlanta, Georgia, for a GOP fund-raising trip.
Despite this, the Bush administration intends to keep talking with North Korea and does not intend to put discussions about disarming the North on hold, the administration source said.
"It's not a show-stopper," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
However, the development means the United States must stop its current policies regarding improving relations with North Korea, Boucher said.
"The United States was prepared to offer economic and political steps to improve the lives of the North Korean people ...," Boucher said in a statement, "... provided the North were dramatically to alter its behavior across a range of issues, including its weapons of mass destruction programs, development and export of ballistic missiles, threats to its neighbors, support for terrorism, and the deplorable treatment of the North Korean people.
"In light of our concerns about the North's nuclear weapons program, however, we are unable to pursue this approach."
"The North Koreans attempted to blame the United States and said that they considered the Agreed Framework nullified," Boucher said. However, Kelly told Kang the United States knew North Korea had resumed work on its nuclear weapons program several years ago, Boucher said -- well before Bush labeled North Korea, Iraq and Iran an "axis of evil."
Another senior U.S. official told CNN that Washington received intelligence "back over the summer months" indicating that North Korea had a nuclear weapons program involving the use of highly enriched uranium.
South Korean President Kim Dae-jung held a national security council meeting Thursday morning to discuss the revelation, according to South Korea's national security adviser Im Fung-joon.
Seoul believes the issue must be resolved peacefully through dialogue, according to Im. Kim considers this a serious problem and said North Korea's nuclear development cannot be condoned under any circumstances, according to the Korean official.
He also said North Korea's admission might be considered a sign that it is ready to resolve this problem through dialogue.