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North Korea to be dealt with by U.N.

By Nick Wadhams The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS – China agreed Tuesday that North Korea must be punished for testing a nuclear device, but sought to soften a U.S. and Japanese sanctions plan that it said would be too crushing for its impoverished ally.

The debate over sanctions began at the U.N. as scientists and governments suggested that the underground test on Monday was a partial failure, producing a smaller blast than had been planned.

The Bush administration asked the U.N. Security Council to impose a partial trade embargo including strict limits on Korea’s profitable weapons exports and freezing of related financial assets. All imports would be inspected too, to filter out materials that could be made into nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

The United States reiterated that it would not talk with the North Koreans one-on-one, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured the North that the U.S. would not attack.

Rice rejected a suggestion that Pyongyang may feel it needs nuclear weapons to stave off an Iraq-style U.S. invasion. President Bush, she told CNN, has told “the North Koreans that there is no intention to invade or attack them. So they have that guarantee. … I don’t know what more they want.”

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton sounded upbeat after yesterday’s round of talks at the Security Council, but said differences remained in advance of today’s meeting.

“Look, we don’t have complete agreement on this yet, that’s hardly a news flash, but we’re making progress and we’re I think at a point we can try and narrow some of the differences we do have,” Bolton said.

China, which reacted to Monday’s blast with a strong condemnation but considers North Korea a useful buffer against U.S. forces stationed in South Korea, said it envisioned only a limited package of sanctions – not what the United States and especially Japan were demanding.

China and Russia object to plans to interdict shipments and block financial transactions. They also oppose a new suggestion that Japan proposed yesterday – to include mention of the North’s abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and ’80s.

“We certainly understand that Japan is close to the country. But I think you cannot ask by this resolution to kill a country,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya told The Associated Press. He said the Security Council must impose “punitive actions” but that they have to “be appropriate.”

Though far less than what the Americans and Japanese seek, even calling for some punishment was significant for China, which usually opposes sanctions, particularly against an ally such as North Korea.

Pyongyang again demanded one-on-one talks with Washington and threatened to launch a nuclear-tipped missile if the U.S. doesn’t help resolve the standoff. Bolton dismissed the demand, saying the North should instead “buy a ticket to Beijing,” and rejoin stalled six-nation talks over its nuclear and missile programs.

The war of words suggested tough negotiations before the U.N. takes any action against North Korea. In the meantime, scientists and governments tried to determine what exactly happened early Monday, deep below the earth in North Korea’s northeast mountains. The North Korean government has released few details.

A South Korean newspaper quoted a North Korean diplomat, whom it did not name, saying that the blast was “smaller in scale than expected.

“But the success in a small-scale [test] means a large-scale [test] is also possible,” he said in comments posted on the Web site of the liberal newspaper Hankyoreh, which has good ties with the communist nation.

The diplomat also said the North could take “additional measures” and that it doesn’t fear sanctions.

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