WASHINGTON - Ambassador Susan Rice suggested Tuesday that China's growing concern about North Korea's nuclear tests presents the international community with a stronger diplomatic card to play against the Pyongyang regime.
"China has an interest in what transpires for North Korea," said Rice, who represents the United States at the United Nations. "They share a border. They want to see a North Korea that's stable. On that, we are in full agreement."
At the same time, Rice said forcefully that the United States and the international community have no intention of allowing North Korea either to have its own nuclear weapons program or export nuclear materials to other nations or rogue states. She called Pyongyang's underground nuclear test and test launches of short-range missiles "provocative, destabilizing and a threat."
Rice stressed in a series of network interviews that the Obama administration was happy with the initial show of solidarity, not only by China, but also Russia and a host of other nations whose leaders issued statements assailing Pyongyang for its actions.
"China has played a constructive role," Rice said. "We and our partners need to agree on a package (of sanctions) that will change its course. ... We leave the door open to diplomacy. We're prepared to step up our efforts to intercept and interdict prohibited cargo from North Korea, but obviously, we don't rule out any options."
North Korea is "trying to test whether they can intimidate the international community" with an its underground nuclear test and launching of short-range missiles, she said.
"But we are united, North Korea is isolated and pressure on North Korea will increase," said Rice, a day after President Barack Obama also harshly criticized Pyongyang, accusing it of engaging in "reckless" actions that have endangered Northeast Asia and the Korean peninsula.
Speaking a day after the U.N. Security Council condemned the tests as a "clear violation" of a 2006 resolution banning the regime from developing a nuclear program, Rice said she believes Pyongyang "is surprisingly in tune to international reaction" and said she hoped that it can result in North Korea backing off from its nuclear intentions.
U.S. officials have been reluctant in this latest episode to discuss specifically what options are available for reining in Pyongyang, although neither the Obama administration nor the Bush and Clinton administrations before it ever publicly took the military response option off the table.
Across the spectrum of the American military and political establishment, there was harsh criticism of Pyongyang. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. John Kerry, D- Mass., on a visit to China, denounced it. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had telephone consultations with her counterparts in a number of countries and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, said North Korea was further isolating itself.
Said Kerry: "It's so contrary to common sense and to the interests of the country."
Rice acknowledged that U.N. Resolution 1718, passed by the Security Council in 2006, lacked strong sanction enforcement provisions and said that more recently, "we actually put teeth" in a developing resolution to supplant that one.
Asked why Pyongyang could be expected to honor any such resolution given its indifference in the past, she said that "North Korea is surprisingly in tune to international reaction and they are trying to test whether they can intimidate the international community."
The ambassador was interviewed on CNN, ABC's "Good Morning America," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today" show and MSNBC.
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