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Malveaux: White House watching North Korea closely

CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux
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North Korea

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Korea said Thursday through its official news agency that it is dropping out of six-party nuclear talks and will "bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal."

In response, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the communist country should "reconsider their decision" or risk further isolation from the international community.

The development came one day after Rice warned that Iran must live up to its international obligations to halt its nuclear program or "the next steps are in the offing."

CNN's Rick Sanchez spoke on Thursday with Suzanne Malveaux, reporting from the White House, asking her where North Korea now stands among the Bush administration's priorities.

SANCHEZ: Does this suddenly move to the head of the pack?

MALVEAUX: This is a priority for the administration. While President Bush heads to North Carolina and Pennsylvania to try to sell his Social Security reform plan, of course, the White House is paying very close attention to the developments in this so-called axis of evil -- North Korea, as well as Iran.

There have been comments from across the globe -- Russians, Britain, the United States -- reacting to [North Korea's] comments. But at the same time, they say they are trying to assess exactly what this means. They're in consul talks with other members of six-party talks -- Russia, China, Japan, South Korea.

The State Department wants to put this into perspective. They say they are used to the kinds of provocative language that North Korea's using, that this is not the first time that they have threatened to walk away from talks.

But what it is, it's the first time that North Korea has been so explicit and public in acknowledging their nuclear weapons program. Privately, they have told U.S. officials about this before. And the Bush administration, of course, has been engaged in multiparty talks.

What North Korea wants is a one-on-one, face-to-face [meeting] with President Bush. So far, President Bush has not engaged in that, not agreed to that. That has caused quite a bit of debate in Washington, whether or not that is really the best course of action. But we heard from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today wrapping up her European trip, explaining why. (Full story)

This comes at time when the rhetoric between the United States and Iran has heated up over the last couple of weeks. We have heard loud pronouncements from the president, vice president and Secretary Rice saying Iran has give up its nuclear ambition. Iran says it will not do so [and that] it's using it for energy purposes. The United States says it's not pursuing military action -- not at this time -- but rather they will refer Iran to the [United Nations] Security Council for possible economic sanctions.

SANCHEZ: Is the expectation now that the United States will need to engage somehow with the North Koreans?

MALVEAUX: The expectation is that the United States will continue to engage in its partners -- Japan, China, Russia. That they -- in particular South Korea -- [are] going to put the kind of pressure on them to [in turn] put pressure on North Korea. Again, they will use [the] argument saying it is not in North Korea's best interests in terms of the region itself -- that everyone is concerned about this.

It is not likely that the president is going to now change policy and say, 'Yes, I'll meet face-to-face with the North Koreans.' They just don't think that's going to work.

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