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U.S. wants U.N. to scold, not sanction, North Korea

North Korea's nuclear program has caused alarm bells to ring in South Korea
North Korea's nuclear program has caused alarm bells to ring in South Korea

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration plans to urge the U.N. Security Council to adopt a statement condemning North Korea's decision to reactivate its nuclear program but delaying any consideration of sanctions against Pyongyang, officials said Wednesday.

North Korea has said it would consider the application of sanctions against it an act of war.

The International Atomic Energy Agency voted to refer the issue to the Security Council after the 35-nation executive board of the agency voted 31-0 to cite Pyongyang for being in breach of U.N. nuclear safeguards.

Russia and Cuba abstained.

The votes came on the same day that CIA Director George Tenet testified on Capitol Hill that North Korea had a ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. West Coast. (Full story)

However, on the nuclear breach, the Bush administration plans to suggest a waiting period for diplomacy before any consideration of U.N. sanctions, officials told CNN.

That was the same tone taken by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.

"I think the message from the board today was very clear," IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said. "I think everyone made it clear that the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] has to come into full compliance.

"The view was unanimous that there be a peaceful and diplomatic solution," he said.

Early on in the standoff over North Korea's nuclear program, the Bush administration sounded out South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and others about the possibility of imposing sanctions on the North. But the administration never pressed for sanctions.

Now that there is a formal referral to the council, two U.S. officials familiar with North Korea policy said the administration believed a "multi-step" approach by the United Nations was the best course to take.

As a "first step," these officials said the administration would urge the Council to issue a strong statement of condemnation that also urges North Korea to commit to ending its nuclear program and allowing international inspectors back into the country.

"Then we can see where the debate goes from there," one of the officials said.

ElBaradei said that under IAEA's charter, the agency is required to report instances of noncompliance to the Security Council, which can then bring additional resources to the table.

He said Pyongyang was first found in noncompliance in 1993, when it barred IAEA inspectors access to what they believed to plutonium that had not been declared.

North Korea signed a nuclear nonproliferation treaty in 1994 with the United States, South Korea and Japan, but recently said it was backing out of it against IAEA regulations.

Russia has expressed concern over sending the matter to the Security Council, fearing it could push North Korea into further defiance.

The IAEA decision to send the matter to the Security Council comes at the same time that body has been dealing with weapons inspections in Iraq and whether Baghdad has complied with U.N. Resolution 1441, which calls on Iraq to disarm.

On Friday, the two top U.N. weapons inspectors report back to the council on their latest findings within Iraq.

European Union international policy chief Javier Solana -- who spent the last two days in meetings with officials in South Korea -- said earlier Wednesday that now is not the time to impose sanctions on North Korea.

"I don't think this is the moment to do sanctions, and I do think the sanctions may contribute to the opposite that we want to obtain, which is defusing of the crisis," Solana said before the IAEA vote.

Solana also may travel to North Korea in the coming weeks to discuss ways to defuse the nuclear impasse. He said he would base the timing of any mission to Pyongyang on the wishes of North Korea's neighbors.

"All of them have told me 'the sooner, the better,' so we will do it the sooner, the better," Solana said.

Tensions have mounted on the Korean peninsula since last October when the United States said North Korea admitted to secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 deal.

Pyongyang, which denies the U.S. claim, responded by backing out of a nuclear non-proliferation treaty earlier this year, kicking out U.N. nuclear monitors and restarting a mothballed nuclear power plant in a move it says will compensate for an energy shortfall.

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