US officials working to forestall Norh Korea missile tests

President George Bush and other US officials have been working vigorously through diplomatic channels to try to encourage North Korea to abide by its self- imposed moratorium on missile testing and return to talks aimed at eliminating its nuclear program, Bush’s spokesman said today.

President George Bush and other US officials have been working vigorously through diplomatic channels to try to encourage North Korea to abide by its self- imposed moratorium on missile testing and return to talks aimed at eliminating its nuclear program, Bush’s spokesman said today.

“We hope it will continue that moratorium and we hope it also will abide by commitments it made last September 19 in terms of working toward regional security and returning to the six-party talks,” said Tony Snow.

He declined to say what the US response would be if North Korea tested a missile.

Snow said Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser Stephen Hadley and others have contacted more than a dozen heads of state, including the other nations in the six-party talks – China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

His comments came amid signs that North Korea was preparing to test a long-range missile that could reach the continental United States.

“The North Koreans themselves decided in 1999 that they’d place a moratorium on this kind of testing, and we expect them to maintain the moratorium,” Snow told the Fox News Sunday programme.

“If they go ahead with a test, then we will have to respond properly and appropriately at the time,” Snow told CNN television’s Late Edition. Asked if he could explain what that meant, Snow replied, “No.”

Snow noted that the North Koreans pledged in September to return to six-nation talks, which are intended to persuade the communist nation to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, and “bargain in good faith.”

“If they did so there was also the possibility of a parallel track that could include some conversations with the United States. We expect them to come back to the table,” he said.

North Korea, branded by Bush in 2002 as part of “an axis of evil” with Iran and Iraq, has not fired a long-range missile since August 1998, when it sent a rocket flying over parts of Japanese territory. Since 1999, North Korea has abided by a self-imposed freeze on long-range tests.

Signs of a launch have grown in recent days. Reports say a missile has been assembled at a launch pad on the North’s eastern coast and may have been fuelled for launch.

On Sunday two US politicians called on China to be more active on the issue.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said on CNN that a “very robust diplomacy, a greater pressure from the Chinese really has to be made.”

She said opening up North Korea’s society could help “begin to move this renegade regime away from this very frightening dependence on nuclear power.”

“The more a country is isolated, the more the behaviour becomes renegade and the less the country has to lose,” she said.

Republican Senator Pat Roberts said of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il: “The only card he has to play on the world stage is to do something like this.”

“The key is China. The key is the six-party talks,” he said, also on CNN. “The key is to convince them to come back to the six-party talks and work this out on a diplomatic basis.”

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