Singapore With impoverished North Korea on the brink of collapse, the United States wants nations in the region to use economic pressure to force it to halt its nuclear ambitions, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Saturday.
Wolfowitz spoke to a gathering of Asian and Western defense and security chiefs in Singapore shortly before traveling to South Korea for a two-day visit expected to include discussions on North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program.
Wolfowitz said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was driving the country toward economic ruin, which could send 20 million people flooding into China and South Korea.
North Korea "is teetering on the edge of economic collapse," Wolfowitz told the delegates. "That, I believe, is a major point of leverage."
He said Russia, China, Japan and South Korea should use their aid to pressure the isolated communist regime.
"Countries of the region that are helping keep North Korea afloat need to send a message to North Korea that they're not going to continue doing that if North Korea continues down the road it's on," Wolfowitz said.
The United States eventually could pursue economic sanctions against North Korea through the U.N. Security Council. Pyongyang has said such a step would amount to a declaration of war.
Today, North Korea accused the United States of conducting some 220 spy flights over its territory in May. North Korea regularly accuses U.S. spy planes of entering its airspace.
Saturday's gathering, the second annual Asia Security Conference, was the first major meeting of the region's security chiefs since the October 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali, Indonesia, which killed 202 people.
Wolfowitz said that attack -- blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah, a region-wide Islamic militant group thought linked to al-Qaida -- had prompted Indonesia to join the global fight against terrorism.
"While the terrorists may regard their attack as a tactical success, I believe (it was) a strategic failure," he said in his speech.
"The attack in Bali galvanized Indonesian resolve and strengthened international cooperation to go after terrorism."