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Powell: North Korean standoff 'not a crisis'

Secretary of State Colin Powell said other countries see North Korea's actions as
Secretary of State Colin Powell said other countries see North Korea's actions as "provocative."

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U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the standoff with North Korea over its nuclear development program is 'not a crisis.' (December 29)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that North Korea is "playing with the fool's gold of nuclear weapons" and putting its relationships with other countries at risk, but he said that the situation is "not a crisis."

The secretary made the rounds of Sunday news shows describing the Bush administration's strategy for dealing with North Korea.

"The president is keeping all of his options on the table, but we're leading with the diplomatic option," Powell told CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."

Last week, North Korea announced it will reactivate the Yongbyon nuclear power plant, which is capable of producing enough weapons-grade plutonium to make two or three nuclear bombs per year, and then told U.N. inspectors to leave the country.

The inspectors plan to comply with that request Tuesday.

"While we were all watching Yongbyon for the last eight years, they began another program to enrich uranium at another place," Powell told ABC's "This Week."

"We discovered that earlier this year and brought it to the attention of the international community" -- which "wants to help North Korea, not attack North Korea," Powell told NBC's "Meet the Press."

North Korea's actions are seen as "provocative" by those countries' leaders who had wanted to help, he said.

"The Japanese have pulled back, and the South Koreans have made clear this would be an obstacle to progress," he said.

Powell says U.S. has 'no hostile intent'

Noting that China's goal is for a denuclearized Korean peninsula, Powell said North Korea "is flying in the face of the desires and the expectations of their strongest friend in the region."

Powell said the European Union referred Saturday to the North Korean situation as a global problem.

North Korea has had nuclear weapons for a couple of years in violation of its previous agreements, he said.

In response, the United States cut off fuel aid to North Korea but not shipments of food, Powell said. But the Pyongyang government escalated tensions by its announcement it was throwing out U.N. inspectors, he added.

"It is not a crisis, but it is a matter of great concern," Powell said.

U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, disagreed with Powell's assessment of the North Korean situation, saying it is indeed "a crisis" for which he blamed President Bush.

"The policy that the administration has followed thus far has made a difficult situation into a dangerous one," Lieberman told CNN.

But U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, dismissed the criticism.

"Keep in mind, he's running for president," Inhofe said of Lieberman, who has announced he will decide next month whether to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. "I really believe the president is doing the right thing."

North Korean officials said they would not back off their nuclear plans in the face of U.S. pressure, North Korean media reported Sunday. (Full story)

Powell said there are still "diplomatic cards left to be played" in mobilizing the international community to pressure North Korea to retreat from its nuclear "brinkmanship."

"We try to solve things peacefully, notwithstanding the reputation we sometimes enjoy of always reaching for a gun," Powell said.

But though the channels of communication between the two countries remain open, it is up to North Korea to contact the United States, Powell said.

The United States will neither negotiate out of fear nor reward North Korea's behavior by offering the country's leaders something to give up their nuclear pursuits, he said.

The United States "has no hostile intent toward North Korea, and we hope they will come to their senses and end what they're doing," he said.

North Korea "can't feed its people, and they are investing in the wrong kind of things," Powell said.

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