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Defense Secretary Warns Against Possible Korean Military Conflict

By Art Pine
Los Angeles Times

The Clinton administration, concerned its diplomatic effort with North Korea is producing only meager results, is moving to prepare the public for rising tensions in the area, including the possibility of military conflict.

Defense Secretary William J. Perry said Monday he will make a major speech Tuesday outlining the situation in Korea in an attempt to lay the groundwork politically for possible intensification of the year-old confrontation between the two sides over nuclear capability.

Although Perry is expected to call for continued diplomacy - rather than immediate U.S. military action - to persuade North Korea to comply, he said tensions could escalate quickly and he wants to be sure Americans are aware of "what the national security issues are."

He specifically cautioned that the United States could face military conflict if the allies ultimately decide to seek U.N. economic sanctions against North Korea, whose leaders have warned they would regard any such step as an "act of war."

"We might have to go to sanctions, and sanctions do increase the risk of a military confrontation," he said in a breakfast session with reporters and editors of the Washington Bureau of the Los Angeles Times.

Perry's remarks came as officials disclosed that the United States has given North Korea a new series of proposals for resuming broader diplomatic negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang - talks that North Korea has said it wants as part of a longer-term settlement.

Last week, North Korea rejected demands that inspectors be allowed to test the spent fuel rods scheduled to be removed this month from its reactor at Yongbyon. The test is necessary if inspectors are to tell whether the rods are being reprocessed for use in nuclear weapons.

Perry said one turning-point in the situation could come as early as mid-May, when the International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees such inspections, declares formally whether Pyongyang is complying with demands to allow inspectors access to the spent fuel rods.

"If it's not successful, then the next diplomatic step would be to go for sanctions (which) would probably be applied in successive stages," he said. He reiterated that if the United Nations did not go along, the United States and its allies might impose sanctions on their own.