UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The United States said U.N. sanctions to punish North Korea for its nuclear program are not an option for now.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador Richard Williamson said today that the Bush administration wants to pursue a diplomatic solution.
The board of the International Atomic Energy Agency voted Wednesday to refer the North Korea nuclear issue to the Security Council. This act set in motion a process at could lead to sanctions against North Korea, which has said it would consider such action an act of war.
Williamson said the United States is waiting for the IAEA resolution to be referred to the council, which should happen soon.
"We'll deal with it in a systematic manner, and diplomatically, and we're pleased the IAEA acted, and we look forward to discussing and working the issue diplomatically here as the U.S. has been doing in the region for many weeks now," Williamson said.
Asked whether sanctions were a possibility in the near future, he replied, "It's not an issue right now."
Williamson said the United States would discuss with the other 14 council members when to take up the North Korean issue.
Roots of tensions
The standoff began in October when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted it had a clandestine nuclear program. Washington suspended fuel shipments, and the North retaliated by expelling U.N. nuclear monitors, taking steps to restart frozen nuclear facilities and withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The U.N. nuclear agency's 35-nation board declared North Korea in violation of its obligations under the treaty and other accords. Because the North has expelled U.N. inspectors, the agency "remains unable to verify that there has been no diversion of nuclear material" for weapons use, it said.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration is concerned that its goal of a denuclearized North Korea may not be possible unless China uses diplomatic leverage to force a retreat by Pyongyang.
As intelligence officials told Congress that North Korea has missiles capable of reaching the western United States, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that China accounts for 80 percent of the foreign assistance North Korea receives.
Testifying before the House International Relations Committee, Powell said, "We are pressing China with this case."
China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Yingfan, said Wednesday: "We have to handle this. That's our responsibility. But how to, and when, I think we need some consultation" among members of the U.N. Security Council.
U.S. intelligence officials, meanwhile, said Wednesday that Pyongyang has an untested ballistic missile capable of hitting the western United States and possibly targets farther inland.
The North Korean weapon is a three-stage version of its Taepo Dong 2 missile, Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told reporters. CIA Director George Tenet, who joined Jacoby before the Senate Armed Services Committee, acknowledged that North Korea has a missile that can at least reach the West Coast.
However, U.S. intelligence officials said later that North Korea has demonstrated no new missile capabilities in the last year. The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the statements were based on the same information that led U.S. intelligence to conclude a few years ago that North Korea was close to being able to flight-test a three-stage Taepo Dong 2.
Without flight-testing, the reliability of such a missile is questionable. For several years, North Korea has held to a voluntary moratorium on flight tests of its long-range missiles, although American officials say Pyongyang may renew them at any time.
John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, said in an interview that the United States thinks China could play a major role in influencing North Korea but that Beijing insists its leverage is minimal.
"We don't see any way in which we can get the North Koreans to move without China's help," Bolton said.
The head of North Korea's diplomatic representation in Germany, Pak Hyon Bo, told the German daily Financial Times Deutschland on Wednesday that his country will not respect any resolutions or suggestions by the Security Council.
"We are no longer a member of the nonproliferation treaty," Pak said.
Pyongyang sees its nuclear programs essentially as a bilateral issue with the United States and has said the two sides should deal with it in discussions leading to a nonaggression treaty. The Bush administration has shown no interest in a bilateral approach.
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