South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung rejected US policy on North Korea, saying pressure and isolation were doomed to failure as the nuclear crisis deepened.
Kim, who is to step down in February, said his engagement policy was the only "effective" way to avert a showdown over the Stalinist country's nuclear weapons ambitions.
"Pressuring and isolating communist countries have never been successful -- Cuba is one example," Kim told a cabinet meeting.
"But inducing such countries to open up through dialogue has always been successful.
"We cannot go to war with North Korea. We can't go back to the Cold War system and extreme confrontation," he said in a statement released through aides.
Washington has been pushing to isolate North Korea and refusing dialogue with the regime until it first agrees to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun (R) shakes hands with military officials at the Defense Ministry in Taejon, south of Seoul December 30, 2002. Underscoring South Korean reluctance to join U.S. moves to sanction North Korea over its nuclear brinkmanship, President Kim Dae-jung said on Monday that pressuring and isolating the communist state will not succeed. Photo by Stringer/Korea/Reuters
Though Washington says it has no plans for a military strike, North Korea in its latest move again raised the stakes by saying it could pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
North Korea has pushed nuclear brinkmanship to the edge by ordering International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to leave Yongbyon by Tuesday, after eight years of monitoring.
In a statement late Sunday, North Korea's foreign ministry blamed the United States for the collapse of a 1994 accord under which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear program and to stay within the NPT.
The 1994 Agreed Framework (AF) helped North Korea find itself "in a special status" where its withdrawal from the NPT was suspended until the construction of light-water nuclear reactors by a US-led consortium, it said.
"And the US began ditching even the AF, thus putting this special status of ours in peril," the statement said.
North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in March 1993, triggering a nuclear crisis that brought the Korean peninsula to the brink of war.
Three months later the Stalinist country suspended its threatened withdrawal after the United States agreed to start dialogue on improving ties with North Korea.
"We have been left with no option but to consider self-defensive means to cope with the threat in order to protect the nation's dignity and right to existence," the statement said.
Pyongyang, however, left open the door for dialogue with Washington to end a showdown over the country's renewed nuclear plans.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States had no plan to strike North Korea, which is still technically at war with South Korea after the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in stalemate.
"Military action is never off the table in the sense that it is not an option," Powell told CBS television. "We just don't think the circumstances at this time require us to point a gun at someone's head."
But he said President George W. Bush "always has every option."
The nuclear crisis dragged South Korea's stock index down 4.5 percent Monday to 627.55. Fears over a US-North Korea showdown and US-Iraq tensions also pulled share prices down in other Asian countries.
The 1994 deal has fallen apart since US revelations in October that North Korea is running a weapons program based on enriched uranium technology.
The energy-poor country said on December 12 it is restarting a five-megawatt facility at Yongbyon because it needs electricity after the United States cut off fuel shipments last month.
It has disabled UN monitoring equipment, removed seals from nuclear facilities frozen under the 1994 accord, and moved fresh nuclear fuel rods to the research reactor, which is said to be capable of producing plutonium.
Copyright 2002 AFP