US warns Saddam has only weeks to disarm
By Guy Dinmore in Washington, Andrew Ward in Seoul and Stephen Fidler in London
[Financial Times, UK, 31 Jan]:
President George W. Bush on Friday warned Saddam Hussein that the US would give the diplomatic process a matter of “weeks not months”, but left the door open for a second United Nations resolution demanding that Iraq disarm.
Speaking at the White House with Tony Blair, his most stalwart ally, Mr Bush told a news conference that both men agreed that diplomacy only had weeks to run its course.
Acknowledging the pressure from more hesitant European allies reluctant to rush to war, Mr Bush said a UN decision to pass a second resolution would be welcome if it demonstrated that the international community was intent on disarming Iraq.
But both the US president and Britain's prime minister noted that UN resolution 1441, passed last November, authorised them to use force without another vote.
Their ultimatum to the Iraqi leader followed the opening of another front in the battle against “rogue states” when the White House warned North Korea not to take “another provocative action” after satellite photographs indicated that the communist state might be about to produce the plutonium for several nuclear bombs.
Spy pictures revealing activity at the Yongbyon nuclear facility delivered a stark reminder to Mr Bush that North Korea could be just months away from developing its nuclear arsenal, while he and Mr Blair were discussing invasion plans for Iraq.
There is mounting US concern that Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean leader, believes that while the US and its allies are tied up with Iraq, he has a chance to push on with his nuclear ambitions and develop a stronger negotiating position.
US officials confirmed reports that spy satellites detected covered trucks at the Yongbyon plant apparently loading material from a nuclear storage facility holding 8,000 spent fuel rods.
North Korea expelled UN nuclear inspectors and removed their cameras and seals from Yongbyon in December, announcing it would restart the reactor for civilian purposes - after the US decision to halt crucial supplies of fuel oil. The US decision followed its discovery that North Korea had a secret uranium enrichment programme.
If North Korea has taken the fuel rods from storage, where they were kept under a 1994 agreement with the US, it could be about to activate a reprocessing plant which could extract enough plutonium for about six nuclear bombs.
Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman, told reporters that “any step towards beginning reprocessing would be yet another provocative action by North Korea intended to intimidate and blackmail the international community”, although he did not confirm movement of the rods.
“Any such step would have the effect of further isolating North Korea from the international community, which is united in seeking a peaceful solution of the current situation.”
Colin Powell, secretary of state, said the US had no intention of attacking North Korea. In a speech in Washington he made no reference to the reports on Yongbyon but repeated that the US was ready to “build a different kind of relationship” with North Korea but only when it complied with its international commitments.
North Korea's neighbours are opposed to any attempt by the US to secure a UN Security Council resolution that would threaten sanctions against North Korea for breaching the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty, from which Pyongyang withdrew last month.
North Korea said Mr Bush had made an “undisguised declaration of aggression”. It has warned that imposition of UN sanctions would amount to a declaration of war. On Friday it again warned the US not to “internationalise” the dispute, calling for bilateral talks on a non-aggression pact.