US insists there's 'unanimity' on N. Korea issue


Published: Friday, January 18, 2008 at 11:51 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2008 at 11:51 a.m.

WASHINGTON - The White House on Friday denied there was dissent on how to deal with North Korea's nuclear weapons, a day after a U.S. official issued a rare public criticism of the Bush administration's policy.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters that the five nations working to persuade North Korea to scrap its nuclear programs "stand together and are unified in that effort."

His comments follow blunt criticism of the nuclear talks Thursday by Jay Lefkowitz, President Bush's envoy on North Korean human rights.

Lefkowitz said the North is not serious about disarming and will likely "remain in its present nuclear status" when the next president takes over from Bush in January 2009, despite four years of nuclear disarmament efforts by the six nations.

"We should consider a new approach to North Korea," Lefkowitz said, a comment at odds with recent statements by other Bush administration officials.

Fratto said the administration is "pleased with the process of disabling" the North's main nuclear reactor.

"There's a great deal of unanimity in dealing with North Korea," Fratto said of the talks. He avoided directly responding to Lefkowitz's comments.

Early in the Bush administration, officials took a hard line on North Korea. But recently they have been cautious not to criticize the North for fear of unraveling the delicate nuclear negotiations.

When North Korea missed a year-end deadline to declare all of its nuclear programs, the comments by the chief U.S. envoy to the nuclear talks were measured. Christopher Hill pushed the North to quickly produce a "complete and correct" declaration. But he also indicated that the U.S. was prepared to wait.

Hill has said he hopes North Korea's declaration would serve as a road map for dismantling its atomic programs by the end of this year.

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