Washington Amid a threat from North Korea that a U.S. attack on its nuclear plant would trigger "total war," congressional Democrats questioned Thursday whether the Bush administration was so fixated on Iraq that it couldn't focus on a danger in another part of the world.
"The president should stop downplaying this threat," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said on the Senate floor. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., pleaded: "Please, Mr. President, treat this as a crisis, because it is, if not contained now. Our options only are diminished as time goes by."
The government of North Korean Kim Jong Il, which announced this week that it had restarted a facility capable of making plutonium for nuclear weapons, said Thursday that it had reason to suspect the United States might send special operations forces to knock out the plant.
"We will answer a forestalling attack with a powerful counterattack and a total war with a total war," the North Korean government said, according to an official English-language version of the statement.
Ari Fleischer, President Bush's spokesman, said "rattling statements" from North Korea weren't new and that the United States wouldn't respond in a like manner.
Without specifically mentioning a military response to the North Korean threat, he said: "Obviously, the United States is very prepared for robust plans for any contingencies."
North Korea's artillery and huge army could inflict heavy casualties on South Korea's capital of Seoul and the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea if conflict breaks out.