Robert Burns PHUKET, Thailand // Faced with a fresh refusal by North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said yesterday the communist regime had "no friends left" to shield it from punishing UN penalties. "North Korea's continued pursuit of its nuclear ambitions is sure to elevate tensions on the Korean peninsula and could provoke an arms race in the region," Mrs Clinton said in a news conference after conferring with officials from 26 other countries and organisations.
She cited near unanimity on fully enforcing the latest UN sanctions against North Korea for its repeated nuclear and missile tests. Mrs Clinton said the US would continue to insist that North Korea return to the bargaining table and verifiably dismantle its nuclear programme. At the same time, she held out the prospect of restoring US diplomatic ties to North Korea and other incentives, actions the Obama administration would be willing to consider only if the North Koreans take irreversible steps to denuclearise.
Mrs Clinton also said, "I also wanted to make clear that the United States does not seek any kind of offensive action against North Korea." She said a North Korean delegate at yesterday's meeting complained of being subjected to US nuclear threats but she said this showed a disconnect with reality, given that US nuclear weapons were removed from South Korea nearly 20 years ago. She said the world - including China, which has been North Korea's most loyal supporter - has made it clear to Pyongyang that it had "no place to go".
"They have no friends left that will protect them from the international community's efforts to move toward denuclearisation." The Phuket conference, known as the Asian Regional Forum and composed of senior officials from 27 nations and regions, is one of the rare instances of US and North Korean diplomats appearing together, although US officials said there was no substantive contact. * Associated Press